MANHATTAN — Kansas State survived. In the end that's all that matters, right?
So what if the Wildcats needed a brilliant fourth quarter to erase the three dreadful ones before it? Who cares that Central Florida missed two field goals, committed costly errors at key moments and still led by three points until the final moments?
K-State did enough to escape with a 17-13 victory Saturday, and that was enough to make many of the 50,586 fans at Snyder Family Stadium remember the afternoon for its sunny ending more than its stormy beginning.
"When we had to have it we were able to get it," said K-State coach Bill Snyder, "and that speaks favorably for the young people in our program. I sure am proud of the fact that we came back to win the ball game."
The Wildcats fought an uphill battle almost from the start. Play was suspended early in the first quarter for 1 hour, 26 minutes because of lightning in the area. Fans went running for cover, and K-State players did not respond well to the layoff.
After talking amongst themselves in the locker room, and watching heavy rainfall pound the field, they were unable to match the physicality or intensity of the Golden Knights when play resumed.
K-State amassed two yards of offense in the first quarter, was outgained 170-43 in the first half and didn't cross into Central Florida territory until its final drive of the third quarter. Even star running back Daniel Thomas was kept in check, and rushed for a season-low 76 yards on 22 carries.
"They played better than we did," Snyder said. "They whupped us up front, they were more aggressive, they ran to the ball better, they just pursued well and played extremely hard."
Many on the Wildcats' sideline considered themselves fortunate to never trail by more than one score.
"It was rough out there all day," said wide receiver Aubrey Quarles.
But K-State never gave in to frustration. After letting Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey run for 82 yards in the first half, they became more aggressive on defense and held him to 17 in the second half. Running back Ronnie Weaver finished with an efficient 130 yards, but aside from an eight-yard touchdown run in the opening quarter he did little damage in the red zone.
And the Wildcats came up with turnovers at opportune times to limit the Knights’ scoring chances. Emmanuel Lamur, who sat out last game with a concussion, picked off a pass in the red zone during the second quarter, and Terrance Sweeney put an end to the Knights' comeback hopes with an interception in the final seconds.
"We came together as a team and fought for it," Sweeney said. "We wanted it more, and we were the better fourth quarter team."
Nowhere did that show more than on offense. Despite his early struggles, Carson Coffman played a strong final 20 minutes and led the Wildcats on three scoring drives.
The first came near the end of the third quarter when he took a snap at K-State's 20-yard line and hit Tramaine Thomspon for a 73-yard gain. The pass put the Wildcats in scoring range for the first time all day, and while they couldn't reach the end zone, a 27-yard field goal by Josh Cherry made the score 7-3.
Central Florida answered with a field goal of its own, but on the Wildcats' next drive Coffman found Quarles on a crossing route, and Quarles turned the completion into a 58-yard touchdown. Suddenly the score was 10-10 with 11:34 to play.
"I started off pretty bad," said Coffman, who completed 11 of 22 passes for 189 yards a touchdown and an interception. "The whole offense started off pretty slow, but we came back strong and we had a big win. It shows what this team is all about with the toughness we have."
K-State (4-0) was at its toughest at the end. With 5:14 remaining, the Knights (2-2) booted a field goal to take a 13-10 lead. The Wildcats had one last chance to win. It took three third-down conversions and a seven-yard run by Coffman with 24 seconds left on the clock, but they finally took their first lead of the game.
Some players wildly celebrated the win. Others merely breathed a sigh of relief. But everyone wearing purple was happy to see the Wildcats' perfect record remain intact heading into a bye week and the much-anticipated Oct. 7 clash with Nebraska.
"It's a great start," Thomas said. "I can't remember the last time I was on a team that started 4-0. It feels really good."