KSU seniors out on a high note
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The HDN
TEMPE, Ariz. - B.J. Finney noticed there was a different look this week in Bill Snyder's eyes -- a look of determination.
Finney's Kansas State teammates picked up on it, too, and quickly fell in line with their 74-year-old coach.
"We had a different attitude all week," Finney, K-State's junior center, said after the Wildcats emphatically ended a five-game postseason losing streak Saturday night with a 31-14 victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. "Coach was intense all week -- he was into it -- and that got a lot of us fired up.
"We stayed focused this entire week. We didn't let ourselves enjoy the trip so much where we lost sight of why we were here. It was a business trip, we kept it that way, we stayed focused and it showed on the field."
Snyder, who came out of retirement five seasons ago and now has led the Wildcats to four straight bowls, had not tasted victory after the regular season since the 2002 Holiday Bowl.
His senior class was 0-3 and resolved to go out on a high note.
"That's what the dialogue has been all about over the past several weeks because our seniors - we've got a bunch of bowl trophies - but our seniors had never participated, which means that nobody in our program had participated," said Snyder, whose Wildcats won six of seven games to close out the season after a 2-4 start, finishing with an 8-5 record. "When I say nobody, I'm talking about players had not participated in a bowl victory.
"So it was extremely significant to them. It allowed the seniors to do what is the obvious, and that is finish off their career in a very, very positive way, which will be very meaningful to them I think for the rest of their lives."
Senior safety Ty Zimmerman came back from a leg injury for the second straight year to play in the bowl game and finally was rewarded.
"We've been to four straight now and when you lose bowl games, it kind of leaves you with an empty feeling for the next six or seven months till you start playing again," Zimmerman said. "I felt we were very focused.
"Defensively, I thought we had our best week of practice that we had all year."
K-State's defense limited Michigan to a pair of first-half field goals until the final minute, 15 seconds. By the time Fitzgerald Toussaint scored on a 3-yard run, Snyder already was dripping wet from an icy Gatorade shower and the Wolverines had just 261 yards of total offense to show for it.
The Wildcat offense clicked early and often, scoring on the game's first three possessions - touchdown passes of 6, 29 and 8 yards from Jake Waters to Tyler Lockett, the game's offensive most valuable player. Waters was 21 of 27 passing for 271 yards and Lockett had a K-State bowl record 10 catches for 116.
The Wildcats also ran for 149 yard with senior John Hubert picking up 80 to finally break the 1,000-yard barrier after coming close the past two years.
"It's like a dream come true," Hubert said.
And it all started with a head coach who was determined not to let another bowl opportunity slip away.
"Coach works his tail off and we finally get a bowl win - it's the first one in 11 years - and Coach is going to enjoy it," Finney said. "He ought to enjoy it.
"Before the game when we were ready to go and we were in our team meetings, Coach's hand was shaking with his papers and I was pointing to the guys, 'Coach wants this (and) that ought to fire us up,' and it did. We came out with a purpose."
Co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has been through a number of bowl games with Snyder and also took note of the emotion he displayed.
"It's just been such a long time and you begin to feel the need just to get a victory," Dimel said. "Plus we had such a great finish and you hate to put a damper on a great finish.
"And then number three, nobody wants to sit on a loss for eight months - that's just crap. We've been doing that lately, and we don't want to do that anymore."
It also was special for senior linebacker Blake Slaughter, who redshirted during last year's Big 12 championship season and emerged as the Wildcats' leading tackler.
"It's so much weight off our shoulders," said Slaughter, who finished with seven tackles. "It feels good for everybody, where we came from this season.
"Everybody counted us out and they said we'd be fortunate to win five or six games this year. To come back and be able to get eight wins at the end of the year, I'm so proud of these guys and the heart that they showed all year."