Bison rally to shock Cats in season opener

By Joshua Kinder

And this is why some people just don’t like family reunions.

It was supposed to be a day of celebration for Kansas State with the opening of the West Stadium Center on family reunion weekend, complete with the unveiling of a new Bill Snyder statue and fireworks after the game.

All it needed to be complete was a Wildcat victory against the FCS opponent offered up for slaughter on opening night. Right?

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, this North Dakota State team wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the other sacrificial lambs normally reserved for season openers, as the visiting Bison stampeded out of Manhattan Friday night with a 24-21 victory, shocking K-State in front of its second-largest home crowd in school history.

“My father always told me that you get knocked down sometimes, but you got to get back up and fight,” K-State senior linebacker Tre Walker said. “Now people are really anxious to see what type of team we’re going to be. What type of leadership we have. Are we really about everything that we talk about?

“Now is the time to take all of the mistakes we made, come together and focus.”

There were a lot of mistakes and there is a lot to focus on going forward for the Wildcats, who lost their first season opener since 2007 at Auburn and first under Snyder since 1989.

K-State struggled to run the ball, struggled to stop the run — allowing 215 yards on the ground — and then watched the Bison do their best Wildcat impression on the go-ahead touchdown drive at the end of the game. The back-to-back FCS national champs did exactly what the Big 12 champs failed to do all night when they marched 80 yards down the field on 18 plays to slowly and methodically chew up more than 8 minutes of game clock — capped with a 1-yard sneak by quarterback Brock Jensen with 28 seconds remaining to win the game.

Jensen led the charge, completing all seven of his pass attempts for 53 yards on the decisive drive. The Bison, who erased a 14-point second-half deficit, converted four straight third downs on the drive, as K-State was left with only a few seconds and one timeout to win the game at the end.

“I was thinking that we needed to get them stopped, and I was worried about the timing when they got the ball with, I think 8 minutes and 15 seconds to go,” Snyder said. “I was worried when they moved the ball, and they weren’t having a whole lot of difficulty moving the ball… I knew they were going to run the time off the clock as well.

“The first thing I did was tell our coaches to get our two-minute offense ready because I knew if they did score then we wouldn’t have a whole lot of time left on the clock, which was true.”

K-State had 28 seconds to get into field-goal range, but on a day when nothing came easy, 28 seconds might as well have been 5 minutes. Jake Waters, who made his first-career start for the Wildcats, was chased from the pocket with time running out when he threw an interception to NDSU’s Grant Olson to seal the stunning loss in front of 53,351 fans wanting a family reunion they’d never forget — for a bunch of other reasons.

Waters was 21-of-29 passing for 280 yards and two touchdowns, to go along with a pair of costly interceptions. The junior found Tramaine Thompson for a 45-yard score in the second quarter to tie the game 7-7. He later connected with Tyler Lockett on a 56-yard touchdown pass to put the Wildcats ahead 14-7 with 14 minutes to play in the third quarter. Thompson finished with six receptions for 108 yards, while Lockett hauled in seven catches for 113 yards.

K-State took a 21-7 lead on the first of two carries by backup quarterback Daniel Sams — a 17-yard touchdown run with 9:58 to play in the third. His other carry was for no gain.

“We made a lot of mistakes, me included,” Waters said. “I’ll be the first to tell you that I made a lot of mistakes tonight that I wish I could have back. As a team, we just didn’t play as well as we can, and when we play a good team like that, who knows how to win, that’s going to hurt you.”

The Wildcats did plenty to hurt themselves in this one, starting up front with an offensive line that returned intact from a year ago and was forced to play on its heels all night because of North Dakota State’s surge off the ball. K-State never established a running game, as John Hubert netted just 23 yards on 10 carries. Waters, who was sacked three times, finished with only 1 yard rushing on 11 carries.

“We made a lot of mistakes and we took a lot of things for granted,” junior center B.J. Finney said. “North Dakota State did a lot of good things with game-planning. They gave us looks that we weren’t ready for and they didn’t give us looks that we were looking for. We just have to be better overall as a team and as a unit.”

K-State, which totaled 321 yards of total offense, had a chance to put the game out of reach leading 21-17. Waters picked up a big first down on an 11-yard pass to Curry Sexton to start the fourth quarter. Later the former JUCO national champ scrambled for an 11-yard gain to set up a big fourth-and-1 from the NDSU 31-yard line. As expected, Waters used a sneak to pick up the first down.

But the wheels fell off on the next three plays, starting with a 1-yard loss by Hubert, then another yard in the wrong direction on a run by Waters, followed by a 3-yard sack on third down, which made it fourth-and-15 from the 35 and a punting situation. Nearly 9 minutes and a Bison touchdown later when the Wildcats got the ball back, it was too late.

The Wildcats won’t have much time to lick their wounds, as K-State gets set to host Louisiana on Saturday night, a team that won nine games a year ago and could be even better this season.

Snyder said something has to change before this weekend.

“I would like to see a whole bunch of mad guys, in all honesty,” he said. “I didn’t see any. That’s concerning — that is for sure. They’re certainly disappointed, and they’re hurt.

“I think they knew it was going to be a difficult ballgame, and North Dakota State was extremely talented and a fine football team that plays extremely hard and wouldn’t give in. They came from two down to win it in the second half, but nobody is knocking any walls down — I know that.”

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