K-State's riotous trip leads to Cotton Bowl
12/25/2011 12:00 AM
12/25/2011 12:05 AM
MANHATTAN — When Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder heard the question, he was briefly speechless.
Is there a moment from the Wildcats' breakthrough 10-2 regular season that he remembers more fondly than any other?
He had to think.
Considering nine of their games were decided by a touchdown or less, there were plenty of exciting plays and moments to choose from. He couldn't go with just one.
"There are a lot of moments," Snyder said. "You could say something about every ballgame that we played."
With the exception of three games — blowout wins over Kansas and Kent State and a lopsided loss to Oklahoma — the Wildcats were better known as the cardiac Cats. Wins and losses seemed to hinge on a single play, and every week was filled with drama.
Put together, those plays shaped K-State's season. Take any of them away, and there's no telling where the Wildcats would be today. It's enough to make anyone think ... what if?
Sept. 3: K-State 10, Eastern Kentucky 7
What if Chris Harper didn't catch a 37-yard touchdown pass from Collin Klein with 1 minute, 39 seconds left against an FCS opponent in the season-opener?
Eastern Kentucky led K-State 7-3 late into the fourth quarter. K-State finally went ahead on Harper's TD. Harper wildly celebrated after the play, admitting a loss would have been a disaster.
Could K-State have overcome such a terrible start and had a memorable season anyway? Possibly. Nonconference losses don't always affect bowl destinations. But the loss also could have shaken the Wildcats' confidence so severely that they wouldn't have felt comfortable in close games. Without that play, maybe they aren't even bowl eligible today.
"I try to put that one out of my mind," Snyder said. "I don't think we had a clue where we were then.... You always believe you are going to get better and better. You just don't know how much better."
Sept. 24: K-State 28, Miami 24
What if Tre Walker didn't keep Miami out of the end zone in the final minute?
As time ticked off the game clock late in the fourth quarter, it seemed as id K-State was destined to lose. Miami faced a first-and-goal with the game on the line. Surely the Hurricanes would find the end zone in one of their next four plays.
That's what most thought, until Walker made four consecutive tackles, including a game-clinching takedown of Miami quarterback Jacory Harris on fourth down just before Harris could extend the ball across the goal line with 49 seconds remaining.
K-State came into the game as a big underdog and left with its first marquee victory of the season. The win landed the Wildcats on SportsCenter that night, and helped keep them on television the rest of the season.
It also helped players believe they were capable of big things. Would that have been possible without that goal-line stand?
"The Miami game is probably the one that most people would identify with, being able to say maybe that's what jump-started the season," Snyder said.
Oct. 1: K-State 36, Baylor 35
What if Arthur Brown didn't intercept a pass deep in Baylor territory, setting up the game-winning field goal?
Brown intercepted a pass by Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and return it to the Baylor 15, setting up Anthony Cantele's 31-yard field goal with 3:10 left to play. Jordan Voelker knocked down a fourth-down pass with 1:08 left, securing K-State's one-point victory.
The Bears were ranked No. 15 at the time. The win helped legitimize the Wildcats' early success, and pushed them into the national rankings for the first time. Without that head-to-head win over Baylor, the Wildcats wouldn't have wound up in the Cotton Bowl — and the Bears might have.
Nov. 5: Oklahoma State 52, K-State 45
What if Collin Klein had connected with Tramaine Thompson?
The lasting image of this game was Klein dropping to one knee in disappointment after he overthrew Thompson in the end zone on the final play. Had he found Thompson for a touchdown, K-State fans like to think Snyder would have gone for two and Klein would have crossed the goal line to win one of the wildest games of the season. Most of K-State's what-if moments turned out good. This was the exception.
"I probably pay more attention to the Oklahoma and the Oklahoma State ball games than I do to all the others," Snyder said. "I just think about, why do we lose substantially to Oklahoma in the second half and what can we do to become a better second-half team and prevent what happened at Oklahoma State, a game that went down to the final play."
A few inches were all that separated Thompson's hands from the pass. Say it had been on target, and K-State would have won. Where would it be today? Headed to a BCS bowl game with a second Big 12 championship trophy in its football complex, most likely. Would it also have earned a spot in the BCS title game? Probably not, but at 11-1 K-State would have been in the conversation.
Nov. 12: K-State 53, Texas A&M 50
What if A&M could have stopped K-State's offense?
If Klein scored five touchdowns instead of six, the Aggies would have left Manhattan with a win. If Thompson hadn't jumped on a fumble in the end zone in overtime for a touchdown, the Aggies would have left Manhattan with a win. If Ryan Tannehill would have put a little less pop on his two-point conversion pass to Jeff Fuller, the Aggies would have left Manhattan with a win.
But K-State made all the plays when it had to and beat Texas A&M in four overtimes. Coming off back-to-back losses, K-State's season was in danger of falling apart. But the victory helped the Wildcats regain momentum, which they used to win their final three games and end the season where they are today. Players made a 10-win season their primary goal. That wouldn't have been possible without a win over the Aggies.
As it turned out, nearly everything fell into place for K-State all season. Perhaps that is why Snyder ultimately decided on perseverance and "being able to come back from behind as many times as we did," as the one thing he remembered most from this season.
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