NEW YORK - NBA sensation LeBron James offered this tweet immediately after the game: "I'm watching this Kansas St vs. Syracuse Bowl game and the ref just decided the outcome of it! It's a shame."
A salute to Mr. James for seeing what the 38,274 fans at Yankee Stadium viewed first hand after Adrian Hilburn did nothing but offer a right-hand salute to the K-State crowd after scoring on a 30-yard reception from Carson Coffman to close the difference to two, 36-34, with 1:13 left in the game.
One can only wonder why, but perhaps the officials had had enough of the chilly 39-degree day.
To Hilburn, his post touchdown salute, which he said was partially in recognition to soldiers, was no different than what he called the "diamond sign" that the Syracuse players did after scoring all day long. (Connecting their thumbs and forefingers together to form the shape of a diamond.)
As the unsportsmanlike penalty flag hit the turf, Hilburn said the official's comment was, "Wrong choice, buddy. I just said, `Really, for that?' "
Yes, for that one-second salute, K-State was penalized 15 yards and had to try its possible game-tying two-point conversion from the 18 yard line.
Hilburn said the salute was something you do "... out of respect for your teammates or your fans."
"Maybe we're on their (SU's) turf and I shouldn't have done that, but I don't think it was a good call, and it hurts me," said Hilburn, who had five catches for 84 yards on the day. "I shouldn't have done it, but at the same time it was an emotional moment for me, and my emotions took over."
Hilburn, who said he'd never been flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty at any level during his career, said it was not a planned move, but just one made out of excitement of the moment.
"I'm hurt, I'm devastated," said Hilburn, who said he thought it was on him that he let the team down. "My teammates kept telling me it was a bull call and that they would back me up for the rest of my life."
And his teammates were hurt and devastated for him.
Quarterback Carson Coffman, who passed for 228 yards and two scores, said of the call, "I thought it was a bogus call. They (SU) were holding up `the rock' after every score. I didn't see it, but I heard that Adrian saluted and you can't do that, but in that situation it was a bit bogus."
Zach Kendall added, "It was disbelief when it happened, but it's the cards we were dealt. It's a hard pill to swallow."
On the call, with typical coach Bill Snyder class, the Wildcat coach would only say, "I can't comment on that. (Pause) I really can't."
Asked what explanation he received from the official, the Wildcat coach said, "I really can't. I'm having a hard time avoiding this issue. Yes, he gave an explanation. The young man (Hilburn) did something to call attention to himself."
On whether he favors the intent of the rule in general, Snyder said. "I concur with the rule in regards to the intent of the rule. I concur with that."
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone's style of a no comment was, "I didn't even see it. My mind was going to the next play."
COMMENT FROM REFEREE TODD GEERLINGS FROM THE BIG 10:
Rule cited: Excessive celebration is rule 9-2-13, which states penalty is called for: `Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself (or themselves).' "
What caused the penalty: "It was the salute, which was the judgment of the calling officials, which were the head linesman and the back judge. Two officials threw the flag, both judged it to be drawing attention to themselves, and that's what the flag was for."
Were you watching for any celebrations? "These kinds of excessive celebrations have been a priority in the rule book for the last several years. There's a whole page in the rulebook pertaining to sportsmanship."
PREGAME KEYS TO A WILDCAT VICTORY:
• Handling pressure and eliminating negative yardage plays: K-State had six plays go for negative yards (SU had four.)
• Red Zone TDs: K-State was 3-of-4 in the Red Zone ... all TDs. (SU was 2-of-2 ... both TDs.)
• 3rd down conversions: K-State converted 6-of-14, plus converted 3-of-4 fourth-down plays. (SU converted 8-of-14 3rd down plays.)
• Big plays: K-State had 11 plays of at least 10 yards. (SU, known for its grind it out offense, had 16 plays of at least 10 yards with five different players having runs/catches for at least 16 yards.)
• Turnover margin: No turnovers in the game.
• Three and outs: KSU 3, Syracuse 1 ... all in the first half.
• Be able to throw the ball: K-State completed 18-of-25 passes for 258 yards and two scores. (SU passed for 239 yards, or 65 more than they had averaged.)
• Special teams play: K-State missed a 38-yard field goal attempt, had a 70-yard Ty Zimmerman punt return for a TD called back on a penalty, had an interference flag on a fair catch by Syracuse, had the second-half kickoff go out of pounds, and, missed on a fake field goal run in the fourth quarter. (SU missed an extra point and opened the game with a kickoff that went out of bounds.)
• Being ready for something new: KSU allowed SU to score on a flea-flicker, and, down-the-line receiver Marcus Sales caught five passes for 172 yards and three touchdowns. He had gone into the game with 21 catches for 242 yards and one score.
After the opening kickoff by Syracuse danced out of bounds, Daniel Thomas zigged left, and then zagged right for a 51-yard TD run just 28 seconds into the game.
The Wildcats had a chance to make it 14-zip at the 11:52 mark, but a 70-yard punt return by Ty Zimmerman was nullified by a blocking in the back penalty on the KSU return unit.
SU tied the count at the 3:17 mark when SU used the flea-flicker as Nassib took the pitch-back and passed 52 yards to Marcus Sales. It was a career long TD throw and TD catch for both individuals.
In the quarter, Thomas rushed for 67 yards passing Ell Roberson for the No. 2 spot in all-time rushing yards.
In the period, Syracuse had 112 yards on 17 plays; KSU had 99 yards on 14 plays.
KSU missed on its first series of the period as Daniel Thomas just overthrew TD Travis Tannahill in the end zone, which was followed by Josh Cherry missing on a 38-yard field goal try. It was only his second miss of the season. He had been 7-of-8.
Syracuse took advantage by going 79 yards in eight plays with Nassib and Sales working their magic again from 36 yards for a 14-7 lead with 9:35 left in the half.
K-State managed to tie the game at 14-all at the 1:51 mark when Thomas kept out of the Wildcat formation and scored on a 10-yard run. Thomas had just 12 yards on seven snaps in the period.
In the quarter, K-State managed only 67 yards on 15 snaps; SU had 130 yards on 18 snaps. At the half, SU led in yardage 242-166. That marked the Orangemen's second highest game total in the last six games.
Like SU opened the game, KSU opened the half by kicking the ball out of bounds.
The Orange took advantage by going 60 yards in seven plays capped by a 7-yard run by Delone Carter at the 12:11 mark. SU had three runs of at least 11 yards in the drive.
The Wildcats had an immediate answer tying the game at 21 with a 10-yard, 10-play drive that ended with a 10-yard pass to Chris Harper at the 6:33 mark. The big play was a 30-yard strike to Hilburn.
On the third possession of the period came the third TD as the Orange marched down the field 65 yards in nine plays with Carter scoring on a 15-yard run, which was followed by a missed extra point ... only SU's second miss of the year.
Highlighted by a Thomas to Carson Coffman pass play of 30 yards, KSU moved inside the Red Zone at the end of the period.
In the quarter, Syracuse had 16 snaps for 125 yards; KSU had 15 plays for 113 yards.
A 4th and 2 three-yard pass to Chris Harper kept a drive alive and the Wildcats would score on yet another 4th and 1 from the one at the 11:03 mark on an option run by Thomas. With the PAT, K-State took the lead at 28-27.
Back and forth it went, as SU went deep for the third time with Nassib throwing 44 yards to a wide-open Sales. With 7:52 left the score put SU back in front 33-28 as the try for two failed.
That made five total possession and five TDs in the second half for the two teams.
K-State moved to the SU 10-yard line but back-to-back plays went for negative yardage, which included a fake field goal run by holder Ryan Doerr.
On SU's next snap, Carter went 60 yards highlighting a drive to the KSU-22 that resulted in a 40-yard field goal making it a 36-28 count with 3:08 to play. Carter ended up with 198 yards and two scores.
Back on the attack, KSU drove down the field scoring on a 30-yard pass from Coffman to Hilburn. Hilburn was then called for an unsportsmanlike penalty for celebrating in the end zone with nothing more than a salute to the crowd, which meant K-State had to try for the game-tying two-point conversion from the 18-yard-line, which failed keeping the SU lead at 36-34, which would be the final.
FINAL NUMBERS: Syracuse totaled 498 yards of offense - 259 rushing and 239 passing -- which was 190 more than they had averaged all year. The Orange's 36 points was 11 more than their normal 2010 game.
K-State totaled 379 yards - 121 rushing and 258 passing.
On putting up those numbers against the No. 5 total defensive (295 yards) team in the country, Snyder said, "We sustained drives by converting third-down attempts and had repetitive first downs."
FAKE FIELD GOAL: Trailing 33-28 midway through the fourth quarter, Snyder opted to fake a short field goal try from the 8-yard-line as holder Ryan Doerr kept the snap, but was stuffed.
"In hindsight, it wasn't a good call," said Snyder. "That's not the fault of our players. That was mine."
On the play, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said, "I didn't know if they were going to run it then, but we prepared for that very situation and that's the exact play we worked on during the week."
Snyder said he didn't think it affected the momentum of the game, saying, "Our defense stopped them (with a field goal), and we got the ball back and moved down the field and scored."
QUOTE OF THE GAME: On having fun in the score-fest in the second half, which included the final possession score, Carson Coffman said, "One of my teammates came up and just said, `Let's go out and have some fun. Play like you did with Cameron (his little brother) in the back yard."
WRAPPING UP THOMAS' CAREER: Daniel Thomas wrapped up his career with 90 yards on 22 carries and his first three-touchdown game of the season.
"I think I did what I could with the opportunities I had," said Thomas. "The ground was very hard to cut on, so we thought we had to air it out a bit."
Of Thomas' game, Snyder said, "Daniel is the same guy he's always been. He has great success when we do well up front, and we struggled up front and he struggled, too."
For the record, here are Thomas' records:
• 2,850 career rushing yards, No. 2 in KSU history
• 1,585 rushing yards in 2010, No. 2 in KSU history
• 545 career carries, No. 3 in KSU history
• 30 career rushing TDs, No. 4 in KSU history
• 19 rushing TDs in 2010, No. 2 in KSU history
• 1,756 all-purpose yards in 2010, No. 6 in KSU history
• 3,303 all-purpose yards for a career, No. 5 in KSU history
Of those records, Thomas said, "It's a great feeling because we've had some great backs come through Kansas State. To be No. 2 in such a short amount of time is special and now I can sit back and enjoy those accomplishments."
Offense - Daniel Thomas became KSU's No. 2 all-time rusher with his 90-yard performance, which included three touchdowns. Thomas also completed a 30-yard pass. Carson Coffman, who caught his first career pass - passed for 228 yards on 17-of-23 throwing; Adrian Hilburn caught five passes for 84 yards and a TD.
Defense - Emmanuel Lamur had nine tackles, including one for a loss; Tysyn Hartman led the team with 10 tackles; David Garrett had six stops with two of those for negative yards.
Special Teams - Kevin Rohleder and Lucas Hamm successfully handled three short kickoffs.
• The attendance was 38,274. Kickoff temperature was 39 degree.
• Ironically, Thursday's 36-34 score was identical to the last bowl game played at Yankee Stadium which was the Gotham Bowl in 1962 when Nebraska defeated Miami, 36-34.
• KSU is now 6-8 in all-time bowl games.
FINAL WORD FROM NYC:
A sincere thank you for reading and all your responses during the last week. Your own words and stories were fun to read. Glad some of you were playing golf, while others of us were slaving away. Back to the Little Apple!