MANHATTAN, Kan. — There was nothing that could stop Abu Sama III, Rocco Becht and the rest of the Iowa State offense on Saturday night.
Not heavy snow that turned “Farmageddon” into “Snowmageddon.” Not the roaring Kansas State student section, which braved the freezing weather to make life miserable in seats just behind the Cyclones anyway. And certainly not the Wildcats' defense, which watched in agony as Iowa State ripped off long scoring plays all night long.
Sama plowed through the snow for 276 yards and three touchdowns, Becht threw for 230 yards and three more scores, and the Cyclones' defense held No. 19 Kansas State on fourth down with less than a minute left to preserve a wild 42-35 victory.
“Kids just responded, and that's been the makeup of this program,” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said. “It takes kids believing in each other and it takes a coaching staff believing in each other, and that's what makes this really fun tonight.”
The shortest of the Cyclones' six touchdowns was a tying 33-yard pass from Becht to Jayden Higgins in the fourth quarter, and the longest an 82-yard pass to Jaylin Noel that gave Iowa State (7-5, 6-3 Big 12) the lead with 8:04 to go.
In between, Sama had TD runs of 60, 71 and 77 yards while finishing with the fourth-best rushing performance in school history. And the fleet-footed Noel had another 79-yard TD catch to finish with three grabs for 160 yards and two scores.
Kansas State (8-4, 6-3) still had a chance to tie the game late, twice converting on fourth down while marching inside the Iowa State 20. But on yet another fourth down, Will Howard's pass to the end zone with less than a minute left fell incomplete.
He finished with 288 yards and a touchdown pass, a TD run and an interception for the Wildcats. Ben Sinnott had 10 catches for 136 yards and a score, while D.J. Giddens and Treshaun Ward also had touchdown runs.
It wasn't the offense that was their problem, though.
“We didn't play good defense at all,” Kansas State coach Chris Klieman said. “That was a poor performance on defense, period.”
Heavy snow fell all game, and more than a dozen workers tried to keep yard lines and hash marks clear. But the field soon became the kind of playing surface better suited to sled dogs and snowmobiles. Players slipped, stumbled and slid, and more than once they ran over a woebegone official, photographer or cheerleader when they couldn't stop at the sideline.
“That was my first snow game,” said Becht, who went to high school near Tampa, Florida. “It wasn't really that cold, just the snow was falling in your eyes. That was the worst thing about it. But I had fun out there today.”
Indeed, the longtime Big 12 rivals played a wildly different yet equally entertaining game.
Kansas State was content to mush through the snow on long, methodical drives, even if it meant converting on third and fourth down to keep them alive. Giddens and Ward did most of the work, but Howard's connection with Sinnott and wide receiver Jayce Brown was a big reason why the Wildcats were able to keep getting into the end zone.
Iowa State was perfectly happy scoring in one big play.
Sama took the first carry of the game 71 yards for a score, then the first carry of the second quarter 77 yards for another. He also had that 60-yard touchdown run in the second half, sandwiched around Brecht's 79-yard TD pass to Noel and his 33-yard pass to Higgins that knotted the game 35-all early in the fourth quarter.
The Cyclones had one more big play in them.
On third-and-16 at their own 18-yard line, Becht completed a pass to Noel well short of the first-down marker. But somehow, five different Wildcats failed to corral him near the sideline, and he ran untouched 82 yards for the go-ahead score.
It proved to be the difference.
“I couldn't be prouder,” Campbell said. “I think the future is really bright, but I think the reality also, man — we have a chance to go for an eighth win, a bowl victory. There are still a lot of things to play for.”
Iowa State had already qualified for its sixth bowl game in the last seven years. Now, the destination could be a bit better.
Kansas State hoped it would be playing for a chance to defend its Big 12 title on Saturday night. But when Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State won before the Wildcats kicked off, they were left playing for bowl positioning.
Both teams will find out their bowl destinations next weekend.