AMES, Iowa – A fourth quarter goal line stand by the Kansas State defense proved to be the game’s deciding moment as the Wildcats withstood a late Iowa State comeback, 31-26, in front of 52,763 fans at Jack Trice Stadium.
In the 100th game of the all-time series, K-State’s victory was its ninth straight over Iowa State and fourth consecutive win in Ames, slimming the all-time deficit to 47-49-4. The Wildcats’ first road win of the season is Bill Snyder‘s 198th win all-time, moving him into a tie for 25th place on the FBS’ list for most career victories.
K-State (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) built a two touchdown lead by halftime behind a strong running presence in the early going as the Wildcats ground and pound attack went for 149 yards in the first half, averaging 7.5 yards per rush. The Wildcats ticked away more than 18 minutes of the clock in the first two quarters and were an efficient 6-of-8 on third down opportunities. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5 Big 12) was held to just 133 total yards on 30 plays in the first half with the K-State defense smothering the Cyclone running game for just 54 yards.
Despite falling behind by three scores to begin the fourth quarter, the second half’s final statistics flipped as Iowa State racked up 360 total yards on its way to making it a five-point game late. The Cyclones threw for 260 yards in the second half and limited K-State to just 141 total yards, but a key fourth down stop at their own 1-yard line proved to be the Wildcats’ game-clinching moment with six minutes to play.
Offensively, K-State was led by junior Jesse Ertz, who finished 18-of-28 for 151 yards and one touchdown. Ertz was also K-State’s leading rusher as he took off nine times for career-high 106 yards, including a career-long run of 54 to set up K-State’s opening field goal. Ertz’s day on the ground marked two new career highs and was the fourth time in eight games this season he has eclipsed the 75-yard rushing mark. Redshirt freshman Alex Delton also contributed at quarterback, running four times for 11 yards.
Three running backs carried it five or more times on Saturday, with sophomore Justin Silmon being the Wildcats’ biggest gainer behind Ertz, rushing nine times for 54 yards and one touchdown. Freshman Alex Barnes rushed five times for 37 yards and his first touchdown as a Wildcat. Senior Charles Jones saw the most carries, 12, as he also went for 37 yards on the day.
For the third consecutive week, sophomore Dominique Heath led the way for K-State receivers. Heath caught a career-high nine balls for 46 yards, while senior Deante Burton brought in five passes for 72 yards and K-State’s first touchdown – his first of the year.
The Wildcats finished with 398 yards of total offense with 247 yards earned between the tackles. K-State finished 8-of-12 on third downs, and despite running three fewer plays than Iowa State, won the time of possession battle by more than six minutes.
Defensively, the Wildcats’ were top notch in the first half, but struggled after the break as the Cyclones put together 493 yards of total offense with 339 through the air. However, K-State held Iowa State to 7-of-15 on third down conversions and stumped the Cyclones’ crucial fourth down chances 2-of-5 times.
Sophomore cornerback D.J. Reed paced all Wildcat defenders in tackles, as he tallied a career-high 14, matching Elijah Lee effort at West Virginia on Oct. 1 for the most tackles in a game this season. Lee, a junior linebacker, was second in tackles for K-State, as he was in on 11, while senior safety Dante Barnett and senior linebacker Charmeachealle Moore each added eight tackles apiece. Sophomore Duke Shelley came up with the game’s lone turnover in the first half, an interception, that is his second of the season.
In special teams, the Wildcats were forced into only three punts, with a healthy average of 52.7 yards. Junior placekicker Matthew McCrane was used just once with the field goal unit, converting from 23-yards out in the first quarter.
Iowa State received the game’s opening kickoff, but the Wildcats’ defense forced a three-and-out in just over a minute. The offense took over from its own 34-yard line and quickly moved into scoring position with a 54-yard quarterback draw from Ertz down to the Cyclone 10-yard line. K-State came as close as the 1-yard line, but a penalty setback thwarted the drive, as McCrane knocked through a 23-yard field goal to go up 3-0.
Iowa State leveled the score line five minutes later. The Cyclones drove down to K-State’s nine, but settled for a 24-yard field goal from placekicker Cole Netten to cap off the 12 play, 68-yard drive and tie the game, 3-3, with 5:23 to play in the first quarter.
The Wildcats answered with a 13 play, 75-yard drive to reclaim the lead. Ertz dropped a perfect, back shoulder fade to Burton, who made a splendid aerial adjustment to grab the 11-yard touchdown pass. K-State led 10-3 with 14:24 to play in the second quarter.
The defense came up with its first takeaway on Iowa State’s next drive as Shelley picked off a deep ball from Jacob Park at the Wildcats’ 14-yard line. Ertz and redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Delton exchanged plays as the Wildcats moved into Cyclone territory. Silmon rushed four times for 30 yards on the drive, including the exclamation point from 6-yards out to boost K-State’s advantage to 17-3 with 8:03 left in the half.
Neither team was able to muster up a score to close out the half. K-State maintained a 17-3 lead behind 149 rushing yards and conversions on 6-of-8 third down opportunities in the first half.
Iowa State grabbed the momentum to begin the second half. With K-State slated to receive the kickoff, the Cyclones went for trickery and were rewarded by recovering the onside kick. The home team wasted little time in making it count, finding pay dirt in just seven plays as Park found Deshaunte Jones for a 24-yard touchdown pass to slim the margin, 17-10, just 2:51 into the second half.
K-State’s next possession pushed it back to a two score game. The Wildcats’ drive began at their own 15, but three completions to Burton for a total of 39 yards, as well as 25 rushing yards from Ertz put K-State at the one. On the 14th play of the drive, Dimel stumbled in for the score to put K-State ahead 24-10 with 5:24 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats turned Iowa State over on downs on the Cyclones’ next possession before the Wildcats scored in six plays, all of which were runs. Ertz sprinted for a 25-yard gain and Barnes rushed five times for 37 yards, including the 8-yard touchdown run to pile on to K-State’s lead, 31-10.
Iowa State came right back with a score of its own. Park connected on a 48-yard pass to Allen Lazard to K-State’s 14-yard line. Joel Lanning entered at quarterback and two runs later found the end zone from 5-yards out to cut the deficit to 31-17 with 13:15 to play in the game.
After a K-State punt, the Cyclones’ offense looked destined to score. Iowa State ran four plays from the Wildcats’ 1-yard line, but the K-State defense rose to the occasion, stuffing three run attempts before an overthrown ball on fourth down. However, ISU came away with two points on K-State’s first offensive play, as Kane Seeley brought Charles Jones down for a loss. The lead was whittled to 31-19 with 6:47 remaining.
Iowa State added another touchdown with 51 seconds on the clock when Park found Jones from 5-yards. Needing another onside recovery, the Cyclones were close to coming up with one, but an illegal touching penalty doomed the home team’s chance of putting together a game-winning drive. K-State kneeled out the remaining seconds for the 31-26 victory.
K-State returns to Manhattan, Kan., next Saturday for a Big 12 matchup against Oklahoma State, with kickoff against the Cowboys set for 2:30 or 6: 00 p.m. CT on ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.