FORT WORTH — The last time Kansas State was involved in a close game, the Wildcats were glad they had a reliable kicker and punter.
Both of them made clutch plays to help preserve a 27-21 victory at Iowa State.
First, senior kicker Anthony Cantele extended K-State’s lead with a field goal with 4:24 remaining, after the offense was unable to score a game-clinching touchdown.
Then, when the Wildcats were unable to kill the clock after a quick defensive stop, senior punter Ryan Doerr did the next-best thing by pinning Iowa State at its own 3. No way the Cyclones were scoring a touchdown from that far away with so little time.
“I have no doubt in our abilities,” Doerr said. “Anthony did it plenty of times last year, making game-winning field goals or game-tying field goals. And they know I can punt the ball where they need it.”
K-State hasn’t needed many clutch plays from its specialists in winning seven of nine games by at least 14 points. But it’s comforting to know they are up for the challenge, especially heading into Saturday’s game at TCU, which has won and lost an overtime game in the past three weeks.
If K-State needs an important field goal in the closing minutes, coach Bill Snyder won’t hesitate to put the game in Cantele’s hands. He is one of eight kickers nationally without a miss on the road and the only kicker without a missed extra point in 50-plus attempts.
“He always jokes that he hates it when I make a field goal, because he only wants me kicking extra points, but I know he has confidence in us if it comes down to that situation,” Cantele said. “That’s the most important thing. That helps a lot.”
Cantele, a former Kapaun Mount Carmel standout, was named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award, given annually to the nation’s best kicker, earlier this week. It’s easy to see why. He has connected on 14 of 16 field goals a year after making 17 of 23.
He also has a strong leg, which has given K-State kickoff options when its offense doesn’t need him to score points.
“It has not been as important as last year,” Cantele said. “I feel like our offense has done a great job. I still feel like I am somewhat important for field position on kickoffs and helping our defense by pinning them inside the 25-yard line most of the time.”
Doerr is a candidate to make the All-Big 12 team by averaging 40 yards a punt. His best skill, though, is placement. Doerr has pinned opponents within their own 20 on 10 punts despite little usage. With K-State’s offense churning out first downs behind Collin Klein, he has punted 22 times. In some games, he has only seen time as a holder.
Much was expected out of both players before the season. As seniors with proven track records, K-State was supposed to be a near-flawless kicking team.
Cantele and Doerr embraced those expectations as veterans are supposed to. So far, they have lived up to them.
“We have been here a long time,” Doerr said. “We know what is going on and what is expected of us. I think we are pretty good role models for the younger guys.”
It might be easy to forget about Cantele and Doerr when K-State is at its best. There are times when they don’t see much in practice, too.
But they are always the first players on the practice field, practicing their individual skills for at least one hour before scrimmages begin.
They are always ready to step into the spotlight, and look forward to kicking and punting with the game on the line, but they don’t mind working behind the scenes, either. That comes with special-teams play.
“This is the last season I have here, so I’m trying to make it count,” Doerr said. “It’s fun to be able to sit back and watch our team grow like it has this year. It’s been a pleasure.”