Bob Lutz: Wildcats ground up by North Dakota State

North Dakota State Bison quarterback Brock Jensen (16) celebrates his winning touch down against K-State in Manhattan Friday night. The  Bison came from behind to win in the closing seconds 24-21(August 30, 2013)
North Dakota State Bison quarterback Brock Jensen (16) celebrates his winning touch down against K-State in Manhattan Friday night. The Bison came from behind to win in the closing seconds 24-21(August 30, 2013) The Wichita Eagle

Talk about crashing a party.

North Dakota State, a football team the big boys of college football should avoid like the plague, helped christen a $90 million renovation to Snyder Family Stadium — including a statue of famed Kansas State coach Bill Snyder himself — by taking a sledgehammer to the place.

The Bison, two-time defending Championship Subdivision champions, not only beat K-State 24-21 on Friday night, but rallied from a 21-7 deficit. North Dakota State’s game-winning drive covered 80 yards and lasted 18 plays over 8 1/2 minutes. It was an impressive march by the Bison and one K-Staters suffered through as it became more and more obvious that North Dakota State wasn’t satisfied to leave town with a close call.

The difference was simple: North Dakota State ran the football down K-State’s throat all night while the Wildcats couldn’t clear their throats when it came to a running game. The Bison out-gained K-State 215 yards to 41 on the ground. And while new Wildcat quarterback Jake Waters had an impressive debut, he was asked to do too much.

Those FCS initials don’t do justice to North Dakota State. They signify a lower level of football, but the Bison could hold their own in just about any Bowl Subdivision conference.

With 28 wins in 30 games the past two seasons, and three straight years with a win over an FBS opponent, there were no jittery players in green and gold. In fact, 18 starters from last season’s 14-1 team were back and that experience showed. North Dakota State, cheered on by a few thousand fans, withstood a big third-quarter onslaught by K-State, which scored two touchdowns in the first 5:02 of the second half.

No surprise there. Snyder is a halftime wizard; his teams almost always hit the opponent with a 2-by-4 to start the second half.

A 56-yard touchdown strike from Waters to junior Tyler Lockett was the first blow. To follow it up, backup quarterback Daniel Sams made his 2013 debut with a nifty 17-yard touchdown run to give K-State a two-touchdown lead.

But that was the end of K-State’s scoring. Unable to control the ball with a running game, K-State had to continue to air things out. And while Waters showed a strong and accurate arm, it was strange to see the Wildcats so futile in the running game. Tailback John Hubert, so good a season ago, was limited to 23 yards on 10 carries. Ultimately, Snyder gave up on even trying to get Hubert unleashed and had to rely solely on Waters.

It was too much to ask of a player making his K-State debut after a stellar career at Iowa Western Community College. Lockett and fellow mighty mite receiver Tramaine Thompson both going over 100 yards in receiving yards, the Wildcats were unable to balance out the offense.

North Dakota State, meanwhile, was effective in every facet of offense. Senior quarterback Brock Jensen, so poised throughout but especially during that final nerve-racking drive when he converted four times on third down, passed for 165 yards. And running back Sam Ojuri gained 127 yards on 10 carries.

This could be a wake-up call for K-State, I guess, although Snyder didn’t think his players were angry enough in the locker room after the loss. More likely they were in shock because of the incredible way North Dakota State marched down the field against the K-State defense, finally scoring on a 1-yard keeper from Jensen with 28 seconds to play.

It was a masterful drive orchestrated by Jensen and North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl, who judiciously used the three time-outs he had saved. The Bison chipped away; there were no plays that produced more than 12 yards. To move from its own 41-yard line to the K-State 1, North Dakota State had plays of 5, 8, 7, 4, 8, 6, 7, 6 and 7 yards.

There was nothing for the highlight reels about it, just good, solid, tough football.

And that’s what K-State couldn’t produce Friday night.

“Now do you believe me when I tell you we’re not a good team?’’ Snyder said.

Maybe not yet. But North Dakota State can beat a lot of good teams. The Bison exploited every K-State flaw and Snyder spent more than a minute at midfield congratulating Bohl and probably telling the North Dakota State coach he wished he’d never have invited the Bison to Manhattan.

A bronze Snyder statue was unveiled just west of the stadium Friday morning. The biggest season-opening crowd in K-State history, 53,351, filled the place. There was a post-game fireworks show that most K-State fans skipped to try and find a quick escape from jammed-up parking lots, eager to try to put out of their minds what they had just witnessed.

It was to have been such a festive night. But the opponent had all the fun.

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