Wildcats Cap Off Regular Season with Sunflower Series Victory
Yesterday afternoon though, when the Wildcats beat in-state rival Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12) in Lawrence, emotions soared.
"At the beginning of the year we talked about caring, whether or not this team cared and we showed the world that we cared," senior linebacker Blake Slaughter said after the game. "We showed the world that we're going to fight back, we're going to carry on and that we care about each other."
From starting the season 2-4 to finishing on a 5-1 run capped with yesterday's 31-10 Sunflower Showdown victory, K-State football overcame all odds, and finished the year bowl eligible (the Wildcats bowl game will be announced on Dec. 8) for the fourth straight year.
"We never gave in," junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett said. "We kept on fighting back, fighting back. Regardless of the close games that we had or lost, we came back the next game fighting and I think that showed today. I think we're very proud; we didn't give in. Our coaching staff, Coach Snyder, they just kept on believing in us and we just took it one game at a time."
K-State senior John Hubert played a significant role in yesterday's win as he rushed for a career-high 220-yards on 30 carries. The most yards rushed by a Wildcat since Daniel Thomas rushed for 269 against North Texas in 2010, Hubert is now only 32 yards away from his first 1,000-plus yard season.
"The offense did a great job running," Hubert said with a smile after the game. "I just said to myself, 'Every little crease, every little hole I'm going to get it and rush down field, try to break the tackles and run hard.' That's what I came in today trying to do. It was the first time I touched the ball 30 times, so I was loving it."
Junior quarterback Jake Waters, who was 10 of 21 through the air for 160 yards and two touchdowns, said the effort from Hubert today was not unexpected as he believes all of his teammates are capable of greatness every game.
"He was big; he got us going enough to win the game, so we've got to give a lot of credit to him and also our offensive line for that," Waters said. "We have a lot of playmakers, so whoever's turn it is they're going to step up. It was John's turn today to make some big plays and he took advantage of it."
On the defensive end of the ball, it was an all-around team effort.
While defensive backs Dante Barnett (2) and Dorrian Roberts (1) snagged three of the Wildcats' four interceptions, junior defensive back Dylan Schellenberg grabbed his first career interception and recovered one fumble. Senior linebacker Blake Slaughter had a career-high 15 tackles (14 in the first half) and junior defensive end Ryan Mueller recorded one sack putting him at 11.5 sacks this season - tied for first in K-State history.
"I think we got to the quarterback a lot for our pass rush and that put some heat on him," Mueller explained. "Our DBs and secondary were ball hawks; they totally got after it and made some plays for us."
Yesterday's win capped off the fifth consecutive season K-State has taken home the coveted Governor's Cup, and with it, the bragging-rights will remain in Manhattan.
"We're happy with a win in a rivalry game like this and to finish our season out right," Waters said, "Going into our bowl game coming off of a win instead of two straight losses, it's huge."
K-State head coach Bill Snyder is no stranger when it comes to securing victories over KU, and he has now won 17 of his last 18 contests against the Jayhawks. Snyder said while yesterday's win was and will be celebrated, the bitter taste of K-State's close losses this season remains in the team's mouth.
"I'm proud of the fact that they have come back, that they didn't give into it and they tried to move in a different direction," Snyder said, "But you remember the losses. I don't think there was a ballgame that we played where we didn't have our chances. That's a frustrating experience. Our players said last night when asked about defining the season in one word, they just said, 'frustrated,' but it doesn't take away how much I appreciate the young people in our program and the kind of pride we have in each and every one of them."
But despite the ups and downs of this season, the ebbs and the flows, one thing remains true: this group of 131 Wildcats never backed down - even when the odds were against them.
"We put those losses behind us and we're going to keep on working hard every week," senior wide receiver Tramaine Thompson said. "We took in what we've done wrong in the previous games and we're going to correct them for future games. It's an awesome feeling to be bowl eligible, but I haven't won one since I've been here, so I really want to go out with a bang and get a bowl win."