Bill Snyder described the moment as "immensely disappointing."
Jonathan Truman admitted he wanted more.
Ryan Mueller, showing fresh cuts on his nose and forehead, wasn’t about to disagree.
Then all three of them smiled — wide.
Everyone associated with the Kansas State football team seemed to take a 41-7 victory over Iowa State on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium the same way. They were all bummed to see a fine defensive effort end without a shutout, but they were also overjoyed to beat a Big 12 opponent in dominating fashion.
"Everybody wanted to see the zero at the end of the game, but we get it. It is what it is," said Truman, a junior linebacker and former Kapaun Mount Carmel standout. "We played our game. We didn’t get the shutout, but we got the win. That’s really all that matters."
In previous games, one bad series was all it took to send K-State (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) to a defeat. It was the difference between winning and losing. Its inability to make those plays was a major reason why it entered Saturday with a losing record despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in all but one game.
On this day, one off series was the difference between impressive and perfect.
"I will have that conversation all day long," said Mueller, a junior defensive end.
K-State flexed its defensive muscles by holding Iowa State to 249 yards, forcing three turnovers and not allowing it to enter the red zone or score until the final moments of the fourth quarter when backup running back Robert Rose lost a fumble at the K-State 10. The Cyclones scored on the next play, and the Wildcats fell just short of their first shutout against a conference foe since 2003 and their first shutout against anyone since 2011.
Still, it was their best showing of the season.
"Shutouts don’t happen in college football anymore," Snyder said. "They played well enough and the coaches coached well enough that they deserved (a shutout). I am probably more upset about it than they are … But I thought the defense played well collectively throughout."
K-State’s defense has been rapidly improving. After looking mediocre at best early, it has now allowed one touchdown in back-to-back games. With Mueller, who made a team-high seven tackles, leading the way up front and Ty Zimmerman and Kip Daily coming up big in the secondary, the Wildcats are making life hard on opposing offenses.
"It’s all experience and gaining trust with one another," said Zimmerman, who had seven tackles and an interception. "Coming into the season we lost eight or nine starters. It was tough at first. We are having a lot more fun in practice now. The Texas game was definitely a letdown for us. We came together and said we weren’t going to let that happen again. From that game to now we have taken a step forward every single week."
On Saturday, it also helped that they played from ahead all afternoon.
K-State’s offense put forth another strong effort behind receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson. Lockett caught five passes for 72 yards, while Thompson grabbed three passes — two of them circus catches — for 71 yards and a touchdown. That opened the middle up for senior running back John Hubert, who rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
At quarterback, Jake Waters completed nine of 15 passes for 157 yards while running for 32 yards. Daniel Sams threw for 64 yards and added 57 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
That made it easy for K-State to lead 17-0 at halftime, 20-0 after three quarters and 41-0 with less than 4 minutes to go.
The Wildcats evened their record in style. They didn’t just look good against the struggling Iowa State Cyclones (1-7, 1-4). They looked dominant. That’s something they haven’t been this year, even when facing lesser known nonconference opponents.
"It was nice to play a complete game," said receiver Curry Sexton. "We had the game in our hands in the fourth quarter. That was nice. That was something we did two years ago and we did last year. To be able to do that on offense, defense and special teams and to be able to go out there and control a game from start to finish was big. It was something that we needed."
They needed it all right. The Wildcats came in with a losing record and with unsure prospects about the remainder of the season.
An overwhelming victory over Iowa State changed all that. Though they still have work to do to reach bowl eligibility the goal is well within their grasp.
After back-to-back blowout victories, they are finally starting to think big.
"Everything so far has been going well for us," Mueller said. "We have to have that mindset that we are not really where we want to be yet. We are 4-4 and obviously striving for perfection from here on out. The sky is the limit for this team and we have just got to keep climbing."