Courtesy of K-State Sports Information - Kelly McHugh
TEMPE, Ariz. – When the final whistle blew last night at Sun Devil Stadium, K-State felt an emotion it hadn’t felt in more than a decade.
After defeating the Michigan Wolverines, 31-14, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, the Wildcats became bowl champions, and the team finally finished its season on a high note.
“I’m extremely proud of all the young people in our program. I thought they played very well against a very, very fine football team,” head coach Bill Snyder said after the game. “The University of Michigan is the winningest football program in the history of college football, right? They’re never going to be a bad team. These young guys were victorious over a very fine football team.”
The Wildcats finally celebrated at midfield, they were finally presented with a bowl trophy, and they finally got to pour Gatorade on their coach.
“I think Coach Snyder is upset about it, but I just wanted to share my happiness with him,” defensive end Ryan Mueller laughed as he glanced over at Snyder.
The 11-year bowl losing streak is now broken, and Snyder and his Wildcats have conducted the best in-season turnaround in K-State history, finishing its season at 8-5 after a 2-4 start.
While achieving last night’s bowl victory was a complete team effort, there is no doubt that it has been an exciting season of record-breaking and milestone-making performances.
Just when you thought they couldn’t get any better, guys like junior quarterback Jake Waters, senior running back John Hubert and junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett proved you wrong.
Waters had perhaps his best game of the season by throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions while breaking the K-State bowl record for completions with 21. His 271 yards were fourth in Wildcat bowl history, and he also added 42 yards on the ground.
Hubert’s 80 rushing yards against the Wolverines put him at 1,048 yards this season. Breaking 1,000 in a single season has been a long-time goal of Hubert’s as he finished less than 100 yards shy in both his sophomore and junior seasons, and he is now the 14th Wildcat in school history to hit the milestone.
Perhaps the best way to top off an exceptional K-State career, Hubert tallied a one-yard touchdown in the game’s final minutes, putting the finishing touches on the victory.
And how about Lockett and his three touchdowns that earned him Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Offensive MVP? His three scores tied the K-State bowl game record, and his 116 receiving yards marked his ninth 100-yard game.
After a season where Lockett has put it all on the line for his team, the bowl victory was especially sweet.
“Right now I’m just excited that we finally won a bowl game,” said Lockett. “We had everybody buy into the system. Looking at everybody’s faces from 12:00 in the afternoon to just getting ready to play this game, everybody was on the same page, everybody was ready to play and you could see it when we were out there.”
Earning the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl Defensive MVP honors was safety Dante Barnett. Barnett recorded a team-high eight tackles and capped off his season with an interception and 51-yard return to the Michigan seven-yard line, which later resulted in Hubert’s touchdown.
When the two were announced as the game’s MVPs, Lockett and Barnett stood side-by-side holding their trophies. The two Tulsa, Okla., natives have been teammates since fifth grade and played high school football together at Booker T. Washington. They’ve been through thick and thin together, and standing side-by-side in their first bowl victory was a moment they will both cherish.
“(It felt) great. God works in mysterious ways, and we never looked at it like that, but seeing us both up there at the same time, it really made us happy,” Barnett said with a smile.
“Being able to grow up with (Barnett) and hang out with him, even with football, I got to see him grow up, mature,” Lockett said as he looked to Barnett sitting next to him. “He’s my roommate now. I can’t get away from him. I thank God for this relationship. I just love this dude. He is my brother.”
And what does it mean to these seniors? The group of 27 seniors who had never before come out victorious in a bowl game before last night?
“It’s just special,” defensive back Ty Zimmerman said. “I’m glad we came out with the win and glad to get this for the underclassmen. Hopefully it gives them confidence for next year.”
As Zimmerman said, it was a special way to end a very special season, and looking forward, the future of K-State football is bright.
“The thing about it is, it sets up a foundation for a new era,” Lockett said when asked about what this game means to him. “When you look at the past bowl games, losing 11 straight and finally ending it today, actually winning, now we’re on a one-game winning streak. I think this really sets the foundation for next year. You have a lot of guys who are happy right now in that locker room.”
And with that, the Wildcats headed back to the locker room to celebrate this team’s first bowl victory since 2002.
They now know what it feels like.