When the kicker is the lead story of any football game, it is probably either really good news or really bad news. For Kansas State, the news went from bad to good in a hurry. Sophomore kicker Jack Cantele gave the Wildcats their fourth-straight victory with a 41-yard field goal in the final seconds against TCU on Saturday as K-State topped the Horned Frogs, 33-31.
"I'm certainly awfully proud of Cantele," Coach Bill Snyder said. "That's a great deal of pressure on a young guy like that, and everybody who is on the field goal unit."
K-State (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) nearly ended up on the losing end of another close game. TCU's Jaden Oberkrom connected on a 56-yard field goal to give TCU the lead with 2:13 left to play.
"We didn't panic," Wildcat receiver Tramaine Thompson said. "Everyone knew what we had to do. The offense got together and made sure we were on the same page."
K-State drove 44 yards in nine plays to set up the game-winner with three seconds remaining.
"I knew it was good as soon as I kicked it," Cantele said. "It was probably the best kick of my life. It felt good all the way through."
Cantele was 4-of-4 on field goals in the contest, and his final one secured the Wildcats a trip to their fourth consecutive bowl game.
The nail-biting final quarter may not have been necessary in the first place had K-State played better in the middle portion of the game. The Wildcats jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter before slowly letting the Horned Frogs back in to the contest.
"I don't think (the kick) shields the mistakes we made," Snyder said. "I made that apparent to them. But I'm proud of them, and I'm proud of the fact that they came back and won a back-and-forth ball game."
K-State's quarterback combination of Jake Waters and Daniel Sams struggled against the physical TCU defense. But Waters found wide-open receivers in the secondary twice to keep the Wildcats from losing their lead much sooner.
Waters connected with Tyler Lockett for 74 yards in the first quarter to give K-State its 14-0 lead. Lockett burned All-American cornerback Jason Verrett on the play.
"Tyler ran a great route and got great separation," Waters said. "I was just trying to not overthrow it with that wind."
After TCU took a 24-21 lead in the third quarter, he found Tramaine Thompson in broken coverage for a 79-yard score, the Wildcats' longest pass play since 2005.
"My eyes got huge on that," Waters said. "I went away from him early, thinking it wasn't going to be there. He made a great play. Those were two huge plays in the game."
Waters finished the game just 10-of-24 passing, but accumulated 234 yards and two touchdowns along with an interception.
Sams finished 3-of-5 for 23 yards, but added 109 yards rushing on 19 carries. He said the Horned Frogs' defense was the best K-State has faced this season.
"Definitely," he said. "Hands down. Everybody flew to the ball and was assignment-sound. They were good all around."
K-State's defense didn't have an easy day against TCU, either. Senior quarterback Casey Pachall managed the game well for the Horned Frogs, completing 22 of 33 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown. B.J. Catalon added 71 yards rushing.
"I said from the onset, TCU is a very good football team," Snyder said. "They truly are. Defensively, they've been as good as anyone in the country, and offensively, they were ready to come out of their shell. We were fortunate to win, and we beat an awfully good football team."
K-State didn't get out of the game unscathed. Senior safety Ty Zimmerman went down in the first quarter with a leg injury. He was on crutches in the second half and his status is unknown.
TCU (4-7, 2-6) will not qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
"I am not used to losing," Horned Frog safety Sam Carter said. "I don't think anyone is here. Everybody is sad. I don't know what else to say."
Snyder admits his team has issues to address, but his first priority is letting his players enjoy one of the program's most memorable finishes in recent years.
"The bottom line is, we didn't play nearly as well as I'd like for us to play, but we played well enough to win," Snyder said. "Those are things we'll address on Monday. I want the guys to enjoy the fact that they won another ball game."
The Wildcats welcome the Oklahoma Sooners next Saturday for Senior Day at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT with a FOX Sports 1 telecast.