Before his Wildcats took on North Dakota State on Friday night, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder grew fidgety during a ceremony earlier in the day to trumpet the opening of the spiffy $90 million stadium makeover that included the unveiling of a statue of him.
The West Stadium Center project at Bill Snyder Family Stadium was touted by K-State as “securing K-State’s competitive future.” But Snyder hasn’t taken the program where he has by dreamily gazing onto the horizon.
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Even as he graciously addressed the crowd of thousands, he couldn’t help but let on where his mind was as he introduced son Sean, the associate head coach and special-teams coordinator.
“Sean’s missing meetings right now, so if our special teams have trouble tonight, we understand why,” Snyder said, mustering a smile and adding, “If we have trouble it’s all going to fall on my shoulders, anyway, for being here.”
The instant that tomfoolery was over, Snyder was whirling away. He kept moving even during the approximately 5 seconds he entertained a reporter’s question about his reaction to the festivities.
Then Snyder summoned his son and said, “We need to go.”
As meticulously as Snyder guarded his time, no doubt late Friday he was questioning this lost hour or so straying from routine as his defending Big 12 champion Wildcats were being toppled by the Bison 24-21.
Even though North Dakota State is the two-time defending national title winner in the NCAA Division I championship subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA, the loss punctured the spirit of the day and the second-largest crowd (53,351) in K-State football history.
“We let them down,” Snyder said, as he considered the pomp and circumstance of the day just as the fireworks show boomed to a crescendo outside.
But maybe not as much as Snyder seemed let down by his team’s intensity or lack thereof, as it appeared to him in the postgame locker room.
“I’d like to see a whole bunch of mad guys, in all honesty. I didn’t see any,” he said, with a subtle but notable edge. “That’s concerning. For sure. They’re certainly disappointed, and they’re hurt. (But) nobody (is) knocking any walls down, I know that.”
Symmetrically enough on a sentimental day that harkened back to when Snyder began knocking down the walls here in 1989, the Wildcats suffered their first loss to a Division I-AA foe since that season and their first loss in a home opener since then as well.
The loss to the Bison had nothing to do with the bygone era, of course, just as it had nothing to do with any perceived jinxing from the shindig earlier or, in fact, any lapses in preparation.
Even Snyder, who likely would say otherwise if he felt differently, thought the team was “reasonably” prepared.
Any of the above scenarios would suggest this was a fluke of some sort, and it simply wasn’t any such thing.
What it was was a richly experienced (21 returning starters), athletic, well-coached and utterly unflappable visitor taking on a program that had won the Big 12 last season but a
that had lost eight starters on defense and was breaking in a new quarterback.
Or as Snyder put it in his first postgame words to the media: “Now will you believe me when I say we’re not very good?”
To say nothing of North Dakota State, which beat a major Division I team for the fourth straight season (including Kansas in 2010).
“They played harder than we did. They were tougher than we were. They were better coached then we were,” Snyder said.
Some of all that was evident when it mattered most. After falling behind 7-0, the Wildcats seemed to have the Bison on the verge of a knockout with three straight touchdowns.
But North Dakota State stormed right back and cut the lead to 21-17 by the time it took over at its own 20 with 8 minutes, 58 seconds left.
Eighty yards, 18 plays and 8:30 later, quarterback Brock Jenson spun and banged in to the end zone from a yard out. The upset was sealed when K-State quarterback Jake Waters was intercepted on the next play.
It hardly means the season’s lost, of course.
Yet it was a reminder that every season presents its own challenges, ones that Snyder has made a career of handling brilliantly.
They are worth treasuring and commemorating, yes. But it’s the competitive present, not the competitive past or future, that always most resonates.