LINCOLN, Neb. - Of course, the field goal was good. How else could Kansas State's season end?
Officially, there is one game remaining on the schedule, a home contest against Missouri next week. But after Saturday's 27-25 defeat at Nebraska, no matter what the Wildcats insisted afterward, there is nothing left to play for.
No postseason, for the second year in a row. No winning season, for the second year in a row. And plenty of questions regarding not only the current state of the program but also its future, for the second year in a row.
Fullback Victor Mann, one of the team's co-captains, bit his lip as the final seconds elapsed. He'd witnessed the disappointing conclusion of last year's senior class, and he was determined not to experience the same feelings in this, his senior year. But there he was, sitting alone on a bench, dejected, fighting back tears.
"We've beaten ourselves the entire season," Mann said. "This is a bad feeling."
The Cornhuskers (6-4, 3-4) were launched back into the postseason by Jordan Congdon's 40-yard kick. There was little doubt the football would pass through the uprights, sending Nebraska's unbelievably loud fans into ecstasy because that's how it's been with the Wildcats (4-6, 1-6).
This is what happens, and it's hardly a surprise anymore. Even the circumstances of the game-winning kick were familiar -- senior defensive end Tearrius George was whistled for roughing the passer, his second major penalty of the game -- on NU's last drive, a drive engineered by freshman Harrison Beck. George's foul advanced the Cornhuskers an extra 15 yards after a 21-yard completion.
In all, the Wildcats were whistled 14 times for 108 yards. But that doesn't begin to illustrate all of K-State's woes. Special teams were an issue -- a field goal and an extra point were blocked. Plus, another extra-point attempt was botched when Watts, the holder, couldn't find the handle.
Never mind that sophomore walk-on Tim Schwerdt gave K-State a 25-24 lead on a 27-yard field goal with 4:18 remaining. Or that redshirt freshman quarterback Allan Evridge (5 of 27, 77 yards, INT), in a return to the state his family calls home, had the worst passing game conceivable but still ran for a career-high 138 yards and two touchdowns. And overlook the two safeties the Wildcats recorded -- Nebraska senior running back Cory Ross had the ball in his hands each time -- within a span of seven minutes in the third quarter.
None of it mattered because, somehow, for some reason, this was how it was destined to end. It's how it has always ended during this five-game losing streak.
As usual, this team's inability to close out a game baffled coach Bill Snyder.
"I told our football team afterwards that nobody gave in and I was proud of their effort," Snyder said. "They fought the fight. I know when you invest a great deal in something and you are not successful, it is very painful. And I can see the pain in their eyes and in their voices.
"I know that they hurt from this. But I am proud of them."
As for the players, they still don't have any clue how this season has gone awry; how are they supposed to explain Saturday?
"It sucks," sophomore safety Marcus Watts said. "Everyone feels responsible."
"It was the same old story," said junior running back Thomas Clayton, who re-emerged as a threat with 13 carries for 85 yards.
With the win, the Cornhuskers snapped a three-game losing streak and a two-game slide at Memorial Stadium, despite fumbling seven times (and losing two) and being penalized eight times for 47 yards.
"This was a great team effort by all three phases, and collectively by our team today," Nebraska coach Bill Callahan said. "I'm proud of our players and the way that they played. They just hunkered down at the end.
"I can't say enough good things about the way they came back and played the way they did when they had to and made plays they needed to make in order to win."
The first 30 minutes were bizarre. K-State's offense finished the first half with zero passing yards. The defense surrendered 249 yards during the same span. But the Wildcats only trailed 17-12 at the half.
But Zac Taylor (21 of 31, 220 yards, two TDs) led the Cornhuskers down the field on the first possession of the second half, culminating in a 34-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman Nate Swift at 13:26. That made the score 24-12, seemingly dashing any fading dreams of the postseason.
For the next 27 minutes, though, K-State blanked Nebraska. Junior linebacker Zach Diles knocked Taylor out of the game (concussion), and he was replaced by Beck, the heralded recruit from Clearwater, Fla., who hadn't seen any action this season. He misfired on his first five throws -- which included an interception by sophomore cornerback Bryan Baldwin, setting up Schwerdt's kick -- but he connected on his sixth, a 21-yarder to Swift.
It was also the play on which George was called for roughing the passer, pushing the Cornhuskers into field-goal position. The plan was to redshirt Beck, but that's no longer an option.
What originally appeared to be a shaky decision by Callahan ended up being brilliant. But this is what happens against K-State.
It wasn't always like this, said Mann. And don't bother comparing this team to last year's, said Watts. The 2004 team quit, he explained, and this one will not.
The last word was provided by Evridge, who was battered again Saturday, injured at various points of the game. He hasn't given up, despite losing all five of his starts at quarterback.
"We have to show the toughness of our team," Evridge said. "This is football and, bowl game or not, we have to come out and play to win."