TEMPE, Ariz. — Kansas State football players filled their locker room with dances, hugs and songs following a 31-14 victory over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl late Saturday night.
And Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was in the middle of it all, in unusually high spirits and praising his seniors for their work ethic and smiling ear to ear, even though Ryan Mueller had just doused him with a tub full of cold Gatorade.
"He is going to get his, I assure you of that," Snyder joked, vowing revenge on his star defensive end for the stunt. "And (when he does) it is not going to be a water bucket."
Those surrounding him burst into laughter.
Snyder’s normal all-business demeanor was nowhere to be found at a post-game press conference with several players.
"I was extremely pleased and happy for the young guys that are here with me and the other 125 that are in the locker room and their families," Snyder explained, "and all those people in the stands that follow us all over the world to support their team. As so many of you are well aware, it's a tremendous family that we are a part of. My happiness is for them."
Several K-State football players said they had never seen their coach in a better mood. He was happy following a victory over Texas last year that clinched a Big 12 championship with a victory. And he cracked jokes when K-State secured 10 wins two years ago.
But this was a different. The combination of beating Michigan, a storied program that Snyder long admired while he served as a coordinator at Iowa, and ending a five-game losing streak in bowl games that dated back to 2002 meant a great deal to him.
The Wildcats had known that for a while.
"Coach works his tail off and we finally got a bowl win, his first one in 11 years," junior center B.J. Finney said. "Coach is going to enjoy it. He ought to enjoy it. He was intense all week. He wanted this one bad.
"He isn’t emotional a lot of the time, but this whole week he was emotional. Before the game, we were getting ready to go and his hands were shaking with his papers. I told one of the guys, ‘Look at that, he wants this. Let’s go get it for him.’”
They did, taking a 21-6 halftime lead and never looking back in one of their best efforts of the season.
"Coach really wanted this one to finish the season strong," linebacker Tre Walker said. "Coach really preaches to us about finishing strong. For the last few years we haven’t finished strong, we haven’t won that bowl game. I think he was very pleased."
The victory pushed K-State’s record to 8-5 after a 2-4 start that included a home loss to North Dakota State. The turnaround took plenty of resolve. Now that it is complete the Wildcats head into the offseason with momentum.
That will be a welcome change.
"It has been such a long time," offensive coordinator Dana Dimel said. "You start to feel the need to get a victory and we had such a great finish, you would hate to put a damper on that. Nobody wants to sit on a loss for eight months. That’s just crap. We didn’t want to do it again."
Dimel was already looking ahead in the postgame locker room. With the bulk of K-State’s roster returning, particularly on offense, the future appears bright. Quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett, who connected for three touchdowns in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, should give the Wildcats a dangerous passing attack. And Dimel is high on Wichita native DeMarcus Robinson, who is the heir apparent to John Hubert at running back.
"The biggest question mark for us is offensive line," Dimel said. "The rest of the offense is very promising."
Finney doesn’t have any doubts about next season.
"This is exciting for any program right now, especially ours," Finney said. "It gives us momentum going into spring ball. We have a lot of guys coming back. We should be able to hit the ground running."
Snyder is also optimistic.
He hopes this bowl victory will bring more than smiles. He wants it to have a lasting impact.
"I hope it sets a foundation for the younger players in our program," Snyder said. "It will be up to them. I would liked to have thought that the 2012 season had laid the foundation for the 2013 season. We didn't get off to a great start. We took some things for granted. I think some of our young people realized that and turned the whole thing around."