K-State’s new coach knows how to celebrate
North Dakota State’s 38-24 triumph over Eastern Washington on Saturday in the FCS championship game felt a lot like a Kansas State bowl game.
The predominant color was yellow instead of purple and the stakes were higher, but everything else was similar.
Bison fans flocked to the Lone Star State and made Toyota Stadium feel like a home game. They watched their team win its seventh NCAA championship in eight years and then bid farewell to their coach Chris Klieman, who will soon take over at K-State after guiding NDSU to a 69-6 record and four of those titles.
Many K-State fans were watching from home, too.
This was an ideal opportunity for anyone to catch a sneak peek of what the Wildcats may look like next season under new leadership. K-State has done things one way for the vast majority of the past 30 years, but things will certainly change in some ways now that Bill Snyder has retired.
That’s an exhilarating thought for at least one incoming K-State football recruit who happened to be on hand for Saturday’s game.
“I want to be part of the class that replaces Coach Snyder,” said Trevor Stange, a three-star offensive lineman from nearby Coppell who signed with K-State last month. “We are going to do exactly what he did, but better. I love Coach Snyder and everything, but I am excited to be part of this new era at Kansas State. Watching Coach Klieman and his team today got me even more excited.”
The thing that most impressed Stange about North Dakota State was the team’s smash-mouth offense. The Bison like to run the football, and they don’t care who knows it. Their offensive linemen are big, their running backs refuse to go out of bounds and the quarterback never slides.
All of those characteristics were on display in Klieman’s final game in green and yellow with future K-State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham calling plays. The Bison rushed for 290 yards and chewed up monstrous amounts of clock, possessing the ball for 40:05.
Their opening drive covered 60 yards and lasted 8:10. Their final drive went for 88 yards and took 10:10.
Messingham’s offense is more diverse than what K-State fans are accustomed to, as it features lots of pre-snap movement and misdirection, but it should feel familiar.
“It’s going to be similar, but we just have to see what pieces we can add to that puzzle,” Messingham said. “We are always going to be physical, we are always going to run some gap-scheme stuff and some zone-scheme stuff. We are going to try and run the ball well enough that we can then use play-action pass. You want the quarterback to be a big part of it, but you also have to be smart.”
North Dakota State hit Eastern Washington hard early and wore them down late. In between, quarterback Easton Stick completed 13 of 19 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns. His day included two uncharacteristic interceptions, but he made up for them by hitting Darrius Shepherd for a 78-yard touchdown down the right sideline early in the third quarter.
“They love grounding and pounding it,” Stange said. “They are just running it down Eastern Washington’s throat. I am really excited for that, because it shows that at Kansas State we are going to do what we want to do in games and you aren’t going to stop us.”
Things didn’t go quite as well for the Bison on defense, as Eastern Washington churned out 357 yards and scored late to make things interesting over the final moments. But they also came up with two interceptions and made the Eagles get creative to score some of their points. Their final touchdown of the second quarter came on a beautifully crafted fake field goal after NDSU stopped them near the goal line on the previous three plays.
Stick also scored on a 46-yard keeper in the final moments to ice the game after Eastern Washington pulled within seven.
“This has been an absolute dynasty,” Klieman said. “There are no ifs ands or buts about that. I think it’s the greatest run in college football.”
Klieman and his team won under championship pressure, again.
Fans in Frisco, Manhattan and Fargo celebrated in unison.
“It was a special journey,” Klieman said. “To go out on top with these guys, over the last few weeks knowing it was my last opportunity, and to have Easton put it on his shoulders and for us to play really well and end it with a national championship — boy — it doesn’t end any better than that. The story is complete.”