KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State and Iowa State will move their yearly football affair back on campus beginning next year. The teams will play in stadiums more suited for their crowd size, and local merchants will be happy.
But it will be hard for future games to measure up to the two played at Arrowhead Stadium.
Just as in last season’s game, the Wildcats and Cyclones needed a full four quarters Saturday to decide a winner. This time, K-State prevailed 27-20 in front of 38,468 fans. Not a bad encore to the Wildcats' 24-23 win in 2009.
"It was a great game," said K-State wide receiver Aubrey Quarles. "It was a nail-biter."
The Wildcats took a long, winding path to come out on top Saturday, but thanks to the durability of a tough offensive line and workhorse running back Daniel Thomas, they had enough to improve to 3-0. Iowa State fell to 1-2.
As a team, K-State ran the ball on 50 plays — 34 by Thomas. It was a career high number for the senior, who turned those carries into 181 yards and two touchdowns. He said he felt strong afterward, but by no means was it an easy day.
"Today was a difficult game," Thomas said. "I've never been tired during a game before, but today it was so hot and muggy on the field.æ.æ.æ."
It was a difficult game for many on the K-State sideline. The Wildcats committed mistakes in every phase of the game.
On offense, they reached the red zone three times in the first half, but only came away with 10 points. And senior quarterback Carson Coffman tossed an ill-advised pass into the hands of a stationary A.J. Klein in the third quarter for a 69-yard interception return.
On defense, K-State often relied on overthrows and penalties to get Iowa State's offense, which amassed 293 yards and held the ball for 31 minutes, 28 seconds, off the field.
"It was just one of those challenging games," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "Sometimes you stab yourself in the back, and we did that a couple times. That obviously put us in great jeopardy."
Luckily, the Wildcats had Thomas and a mixture of several others in the rushing game to lean on. Coffman took a larger running role with option plays and ran 10 times for 37 yards and a touchdown. Wide receivers Brodrick Smith and Quarles combined for 34 yards on two nifty end-arounds.
K-State's offensive line never backed down to an opposing defense that was focused on stopping the run all afternoon.
Coffman, who completed 6 of 12 passes for 104 yards, said he had never seen his front five dominate the line of scrimmage so thoroughly. Senior center Wade Weibert said it was the unit's best performance to date.
"It's a big pride thing for us," Weibert said. "Everyone knows we're going to run the ball. It's not a secret at all to anybody. For us, it's just a stop-us-if-you-can mentality that we're taking up front. Every time we line up they know where it's going usually, so it's just a matter of taking the guy up front."
The Wildcats accomplished that, and moved the ball when it mattered most. Despite trailing by one score three times throughout the game, K-State put together a key 83-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that put pressure on Iowa State's offense.
K-State went to Thomas seven times on the scoring drive, but picked up 47 yards on a deep pass from Coffman to Smith. The Wildcats pulled ahead 24-20 with 6:47 remaining, and held off Iowa State from there.
On the Cyclones' ensuing drive, sophomore defensive end Brandon Harold broke into the backfield and stripped the ball away from quarterback Austen Arnaud. The play was eerily similar to Emmanuel Lamur's blocked extra point in the closing moments of last year's game.
"It was a critical moment in the game," Harold said. "They score, they win the ball game or at least they take the lead. The clock was winding down. I had an opportunity to make a play and I did."
That gave K-State great field position, which it turned into a field goal with 1:38 to go.
At game’s end, K-State players celebrated as a group, and waved to their section of fans before leaving the field. It may be a while before they return to Arrowhead in the regular season, but they said goodbye in style.