GUT-PUNCH: Controversy frames heartbreaking loss to K-State

Nov 25, 2017; Manhattan, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) makes a catch against Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Duke Shelley (8) during the third quarter of a game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Wildcats won the game 20-19. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports 

MANHATTAN, Kan. — The fateful flag flew. The refs converged ominously. Uh-oh.

So what went through Iowa State star senior receiver Allen Lazard’s head as that pivotal call was made, then erased, late in Saturday’s tense, bizarre and controversial 20-19 loss Saturday at Kansas State?

“What goes through my mind is what’s going through their mind,” said Lazard, who was hit by a Wildcat defender before the ball reached him, but the full complement of officials decided it was not pass interference after all. “I look over at the refs and they’re looking up at the scoreboard, reviewing the play and what not, and I’m pretty sure they’re not supposed to do that, to have an outcome on their call. It is what it is. We can’t do anything about it now. We shouldn’t have gave the refs a chance to even make a call. I could have easily caught that pass, or could have had a better ball, or Hakeem (Butler) could have caught that ball on second down and kept the clock running. There’s a lot of things that could have happened but what happened, happened.”

That — in a handful of painful and rage-inspiring — words, perfectly sums up many of the recent iterations of the rivalry between the Cyclones and the Wildcats.

“It sucks,” ISU linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning said. “I’ve never been down here and had a good experience, so it’s definitely a terrible way to end your senior regular season. You try to come out with a win here and set yourself up for better bowl game.”

ISU — despite losing banged-up star tailback David Montgomery early in the game — led 19-7, then 19-14, after driving for Kyle Kempt-to-Marchie Murdock and Butler touchdowns in its first two second-half drives.

Then a crazy game turned maddening. On the K-State drive that made the score 19-14 with 7:28 left, a flag was picked up for offensive pass interference that would have negated a big play.

On the Cyclones’ final drive of the game, two flags were picked up — one for a late hit on a sliding Kempt, and the final one that came as Lazard tried to complete a catch at the K-State 34 that would have given ISU a first down with two minutes left.

The Wildcats retained just two timeouts, so it’s likely the Cyclones (7-5, 5-4) would have been able to run out the clock.

Until the flag was picked up like it never happened.

Hard to stomach. Another gut punch. Again, against K-State (7-5, 5-4), which now owns a 10-game win streak in the series.

“I was happy to be back today,” said Kempt, who returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with shoulder issues. “My heart just hurts for this whole team. That’s a tough loss. We’ve dealt with a couple of those this season, but I think my takeaway is going to be, as a senior class we’ve really changed this culture. And it goes to show for those young guys that those little details are going to be the difference between us being 7-5 or 10-2 or something like that.”

Little details. Ire-inducing calls and no calls. And there’s a hindsight-based kicker:

What if the Cyclones don’t pass on second and six with 2:07 left? The throw eluded Butler, but the defense gave ISU the look it wanted. A completion there and the Cyclones are also in a position to drain the Wildcats of their final two timeouts and leave little if any time on the clock.

So they took a shot. Two shots, really. Didn’t pay off — for a variety of reasons, some controllable, some obviously not.

“Well, go win the game,” ISU coach Matt Campbell said when asked about the decision to throw, not run in that situation. “You know, there’s still enough time on the clock and we had what we wanted. We didn’t make the play and that’s unfortunate. Again, I think a little discipline and detail, but hindsight’s 20-20. It is what it is.”

And what was Saturday? A game, as usual, filled with twists and turns and breaks both good and bad.

The bad ones stood out in sharp relief with the game on the line, but Campbell came back to detail — and how the utter mastery if it is the only way to upend Bill Snyder’s always-sound team.

After all, despite the last picked up flag, Cyclone punter Colin Downing pinned K-State at its own eight.

Get a stop, which the defense did plenty of Saturday, and it’s also game over.

“Again, to beat this team, you‘ve got to win with elite detail,” said Campbell, who was demonstrative with officials because of a false start he spotted in the next-to-last play of the game. “And that elite detail until there’s zero on the clock, is the reality of Kansas State football. I think that’s why I have such an admiration for coach Snyder, how he’s built his program, and why they’ve won like they’ve won. It is what it is. Yes, I thought we did some really good things. I thought we put ourselves in a really good spot to win the game, but you’ve got to go win it and unfortunately we weren’t able to.”

Still had a chance. With less than 20 seconds left, Thompson lofted a pass in the end zone that ISU corner D’Andre Payne picked off. Only problem: Offsides call.

Thompson then hit Dominque Heath on a pass that went to the one-yard line, but confused officials tried to spot it at the four as the clock remained at 11 seconds — and even as K-State was out of timeouts.

The next play, as time elapsed, Thompson bided time by scrambling and Isaiah Zuber came open in the back of the end zone. Thompson zipped it to him. Touchdown. Game. Set. Helluva a heart-breaking match.

Again. Dammit. But on to the bowl game — and building for the seasons to come.

“We have to continue to be great with the process and love it,” said Kempt, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. “We’ve got to get these guys ready to take that mantle when the senior class is done after (the bowl) game.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.