MANHATTAN, Kan. — Bill Snyder wouldn’t bite when he was asked to compare this season’s Kansas State team to those of years past, Wildcats that won Big 12 championships and went to prestigious bowl games.
“I reserve the right to make those judgments until the end of the season,” the longtime coach said, “and then I’ll find a way to avoid the question.”
It’s going to be an inevitable one.
John Hubert ran for 120 yards and the go-ahead touchdown Saturday, helping the Wildcats (No. 11 BCS, No. 16 AP) beat Iowa State 30-23 and keeping alive their chances for a share of the conference title.
Picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, Kansas State (10-2, 7-2) instead put together one of the best seasons in school history. Led by the 72-year-old Snyder, the plucky Wildcats managed to beat everyone they faced except for Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the two teams who were to decide Saturday night whether they would share in a conference championship.
If the Sooners beat their rivals in Bedlam, there would be a three-way tie.
“It’s been a journey,” said Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who ran for a touchdown and threw for another against the Cyclones. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs, but over the course we’ve been able to make improvements so we’re a better team.”
Jeff Woody ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns for the Cyclones (6-6, 3-6), who became bowl eligible for the second time under Paul Rhoads when they knocked off the Cowboys a couple weeks ago.
They nearly managed another upset against the Wildcats.
Hubert scored the go-ahead touchdown on a tackle-breaking 26-yard run with 3:29 left, which gave Iowa State plenty of time to answer. Freshman quarterback Jared Barnett converted a pair of third downs to move into Kansas State territory, and then scrambled for eight yards on third-and-10.
Facing fourth-and-2 at the 31, Woody took the handoff and was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, the ball popping out. Kansas State recovered it to seal the victory.
“This is the No. 11 team in the BCS,” Rhoads said, “and with 1:07 to go, we’re driving down to tie the game and send it into overtime.”
Both teams now await their bowl destinations.
The Wildcats could be headed anywhere from one of the BCS games as an at-large selection to the Alamo or Cotton bowls, though Snyder said he won’t be campaigning before announcements are made Sunday night. The Cyclones, meanwhile, will be headed to a game for the second time in three years.
“K-State was only favored in four games and they won 10,” Woody said. “We were favored in two and we won six, so we’re two tremendously similar teams, and that showed.”
After lightning delayed the kickoff 90 minutes, the Cyclones jumped out to a 7-0 lead. Barnett threw a pass that wobbled so much it looked as if the ball was deflating, but Darius Darks managed to get the inside position on cornerback Nigel Malone and hauled in the 30-yard catch.
The Wildcats needed 15 seconds to answer.
Klein dropped back and floated a pass on a deep post route to Tramaine Thompson, one of the fastest players on the team. He caught it with his fingertips just past the outstretched hands of defensive back Ter’Ran Benton and raced the rest of the way untouched for the 68-yard touchdown, the longest play from scrimmage for Kansas State this season.
“We had a play called and Collin saw coverage he liked,” Thompson said. “So we switched it around. I was hoping he saw it. When he checked to it, I was so happy.”
Iowa State regained the lead moments later when Woody plunged in from a yard out, but Zach Guyer’s extra point was blocked by Raphael Guidry, his fourth blocked kick of the season.
Anthony Cantele kicked a 37-yard field goal for the Wildcats to get within 13-10.
Kansas State took over at its own 38 just before halftime, and Klein mixed in a couple of option keepers along with a pair of 14-yard completions to Hubert. The sophomore running back took the second of them down to the goal line, and Klein’s TD sneak gave Kansas State a 17-13 lead at the break.
Guidry’s second big play, this time an interception off a tipped ball, gave Kansas State prime field position early in the third quarter, and Cantele’s 47-yard field goal made it 20-13.
Iowa State responded by going 64 yards in 12 plays, converting three third downs, and Woody’s rumbling 13-yard scamper allowed the Cyclones to draw even with 4:25 left in the quarter.
Kansas State squandered a chance to take a touchdown lead, failing to score in three tries from the 3 before Cantele knocked through his third field goal of the game. The Cyclones matched it when they converted a pair of fourth downs and Guyer made a 43-yarder with 6:12 left.
The Cyclones finally ran out of answers, though, and they still haven’t beaten the Wildcats in Manhattan since 2004 — the last time they had a winning season.