The unveiling of Bill Snyder’s statue and the opening of the West Stadium Center lifted Kansas State spirits on Friday, only to be doused by a huge bucket of water by evening.
Kansas State lost to North Dakota State 24-21, and feel free to play the David vs. Goliath angle. The Bison play in the Division I championship subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, a rung down from the major Division I teams like K-State that award about 20 more scholarships.
Appalachian State over Michigan is the gold standard of such conquests, and although this one won’t resonate as much nationally, the comparison is apt.
North Dakota State, like Appalachian, is in the midst of an NCAA championship run, having won the last two national titles at its level.
And Michigan, like Kansas State, is a national power. When last seen, the Wildcats were battling Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. On this field, K-State was toppling Texas for the Big 12 championship.
The Bison play big boy football, and that was driven home on their final possession when they drove 80 yards in 18 plays and consumed an amazing 8:38 of the clock.
The possession was brilliantly engineered by quarterback Brock Jensen, who scored the game winner on a spin move into the end zone with 28 seconds remaining.
If anything, these were equally matched teams, with North Dakota State holding advantages in poise and polish with 18 starters returning from a squad that captured its second straight NCAA championship.
K-State figured to win most of the position battles and own more depth, but with a new quarterback and eight new defensive starters, the Wildcats played like a team in transition, especially along the defensive front and on the final drive.
Besides the ceremonies, the day spoiled the debut of quarterback Jake Waters, who with two flicks of his wrist proved why he won the position battle over Daniel Sams.
Two flicks of Waters’ wrist revealed what Snyder and the coaches saw that made him the first juco transfer to start in his first game since Michael Bishop in 1997.
In the second quarter, after ducking out of trouble, Waters locked in on Tramaine Thompson streaking down the left sideline and hit him stride with velocity for a 45-yard score.
The second was just as impressive. A pump fake allowed Tyler Lockett to slip behind the secondary and Waters launched another deep ball with authority that Lockett corralled and carried in for a 56-yard score and the first K-State lead in the third quarter.
They were beautiful throws, and so were many of Waters’ short and intermediary throws. Kansas State quarterbacks, including Collin Klein, have posted healthy accuracy numbers. But none tossed a deep ball like this.
On the debit side, Waters’ pick was the kind of thing that drives a coach nuts. Flushed and rushed near his goal line, Waters flung it wildly. At Iowa Western it probably falls complete. At this level, an interception that would have been a disaster had North Dakota State not dropped a short touchdown pass before doinking a field-goal attempt.
Oh, about Sams. There was a little something for him as well. On a third-and-3, Sams entered for the first time. It’s not the Wildcat formation – he is a quarterback, after all – but it’s the same idea. He took the snap, and blurred to the end zone from 17 yards.
Earlier, K-State tried a direct snap to running back John Hubert that went nowhere. No need for that with Sams in uniform.
But it wasn’t good enough. Kansas State owned a 21-7 lead in the third quarter and couldn’t put the game away with another score.
And Kansas State lost an opening game for the first time since Snyder’s season in 1989. So many good things have happened to the Wildcats since then, enough to erect a statue and add to a stadium. But Friday wasn’t one of them.