MANHATTAN, Kan. — Jake Waters felt helpless.
Kansas State hadn't put North Dakota State away early in the fourth quarter. The Bison were down by four and were driving down the field. And they were chewing up a lot of time.
“That's a tough spot,” Waters said. “That's tough not to be able to do anything about it.”
In his first start as the Wildcat quarterback, the former Council Bluffs St. Albert and Iowa Western star could only watch as the reigning two-time FCS champions marched to the game-winning score.
NDSU stunned Kansas State 24-21 in front of the second-largest crowd (53,351) in the history of Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Friday with an 18-play drive to victory late in the fourth quarter.
The Bison took 8:30 to go 80 yards to earn their fourth win against an FBS opponent in as many seasons. The winning score came with 28 seconds left.
Waters said he chewed his nails, watched the clock and hoped as the drive unfolded. NDSU left him with less than a half minute to go 80 yards with no timeouts. His first-down throw from the 20 was intercepted. He forced the ball, knowing he couldn't afford to take a sack.
It was one of two picks Waters threw in his K-State debut. The other was on a ball he tried to heave out of bounds from his own end zone in the second quarter. It didn't go far enough.
“We made a lot mistakes, me included,” Waters said. “I'll be the first to tell you that I made a lot mistakes tonight that I wish I could have back. I've just got to be smart with the ball.”
His two turnovers led to zero points. But, as he pointed out, KSU didn't score enough points.
The Wildcat rushing attack was nonexistent, totaling 41 yards on 23 carries. Waters was also sacked three times and was pressured by on many other occasions.
The quarterback tried to shoulder any blame afterward, saying he could've gotten his offensive line into better protection schemes. But K-State's first loss in an opener under Bill Snyder since 1989 hardly was the fault of Waters.
He wasn't flawless. But, at times, he was really, really good.
On Kansas State's three scoring drives, he was 10 for 10 for 169 yards. Waters tossed long TD passes to Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett, hitting them both in stride.
He finished 21 of 27 for 280 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The numbers didn't really matter in the end. K-State was 0-1 with its new starting quarterback.
“Obviously, it wasn't the way I, or we, wanted it to end,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere. It was great out there playing with those guys. It wasn't the way we all wanted to start off.”
Waters was named the starter Monday, completing a long journey to Division I football.
He was a three-year starter at Council Bluffs St. Albert, posting a 37-2 career record while leading his team to Class 1-A state championships in 2007 and 2009. Still, the only scholarship offer he got to play college football was at the new Iowa Western Community College program in his hometown.
D-II power Northwest Missouri State said he could join as a walk-on. Waters didn't give it much thought. He stayed home and became a star for the local junior college.
In 2012, he set the NJCAA single-season record for completion percentage (73.3) while captaining Iowa Western to a 12-0 record and a national title in only its fourth year of football. The third-year sophomore threw for 3,501 yards and 39 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Waters was named the NJCAA offensive player of the year. He received multiple offers from D-I schools last season, eventually choosing Kansas State over Penn State in early December.
He beat out Daniel Sams, who played behind Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein at K-State a year ago, for the starting spot. Sams played very little Friday. He carried the ball twice, scored the final touchdown for the Wildcats in the third quarter and didn't attempt a pass.
The starting job seems to be Waters' alone, for now.
Snyder expressed disappointment after the loss, but not of his starting quarterback.
“He threw the ball reasonably well,” the K-State coach said. “He made a couple of mistakes that got us into trouble. Overall, for his first ball game, he played reasonably well.”
Waters, who became the first junior college transfer to start the season at quarterback for K-State since Michael Bishop in 1997, wasn't buying that Friday. It's not in his nature after a loss.
It hasn't happened to him much. He's lost five games as a starting quarterback since his sophomore year in high school. The last came in November 2011 while at Iowa Western.
“Man, I hate losing,” he said. The outcome seemed to be his only real disappointment.
Waters said he felt at ease playing in front of a large crowd for the first time, was pumped before to the opening kickoff and felt not everything was a loss in the defeat.
“In the passing game, we did some good things,” he said. “Like I said, I have a couple of plays that I want to have back. For the most part, I felt pretty comfortable.”
Friday was only the beginning for Waters and the Wildcats, who are at home against Louisiana and Massachusetts the next two Saturdays. He said his team will have to bounce back quickly.
“Our next opponent isn't going to feel sorry for us,” he said. “We can't feel sorry for ourselves.”
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Waters posted a 27-2 record at Council Bluffs St. Albert. He was 37-2.