MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Kansas State coach Bill Snyder had just emerged from a somber postgame locker room when he stepped to the podium. The first words that he said, entirely unprompted, spoke volumes.
“Now will you believe me when I say we’re not very good?” he asked. “Been trying to tell you.”
While the defending Big 12 champion Wildcats were licking their wounds deep within the Vanier Football Complex, two-time defending FCS champion North Dakota State was still on the field in the stadium that bears Snyder’s name, celebrating the biggest win in school history.
There was no smoke and mirrors behind the Bison’s 24-21 triumph Friday night, either. They outplayed the Wildcats most of the night, and then added injury to insult with a bruising, 18-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 8½ minutes and ended with the go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown.
It was the first season-opening defeat for Snyder since 1989, his first season in Manhattan, when losses to lower division teams were a bit more acceptable. In fact, it was also the first loss at the hands of a school in the former Division I-AA since the Wildcats were beaten by Northern Iowa — one of the Bison’s current conference rivals — the following week during that 1-10 season.
“Coach Snyder harped on it after the game that it’s the first time we’ve lost an opening game in like, 20 years,” wide receiver Tramaine Thompson said. “It’s very disappointing to let down the K-State family like that, but we’re going to have to respond.”
Their immediate response, though, left something to be desired.
Snyder hoped to walk up the long ramp from the field, through the doorway and into the locker room and encounter a bunch of angry Wildcats. He wanted to hear a bunch of yelling and screaming, and maybe even see someone punch a wall, after the first home losses in nearly two years.
Instead, you could have heard a pin drop.
“I’d like to see a whole bunch of mad guys, in all honesty. I didn’t see any. That’s concerning for sure,” Snyder said. “I think they’re certainly disappointed and they’re hurt. I think they knew it was going to be a difficult ballgame and that North Dakota State was an extremely talented team that would not give in. But they’re not really knocking any walls down, I know that.”
In the most subtle sign of discord, Thompson disagreed with his coach.
“Guys were upset. Maybe he didn’t see every single person, maybe he’s talking as a whole, but there are guys who were upset,” he said. “Nobody is happy with losing a game.”
The Wildcats were on upset alert most of the night. They struggled to get into a rhythm on offense behind quarterback Jake Waters, the heir to Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, and their defense couldn’t seem to slow down a Bison offense that returned a bevy of veterans.
Waters was 21 of 29 for 280 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions. And in the most glaring sign that the junior college transfer is not another run-first bruiser like Klein, he gained just 24 yards on 11 carries — even though Snyder and the Kansas State coaching staff stubbornly kept calling read-options and quarterback draws when they kept getting stuffed.
“I’ll be the first one to tell you I made a lot of mistakes,” Waters said. “When we’re playing a good team like that, knows how to win, that’s going to hurt you.”
On the flip side, the Wildcats allowed 380 yards of total offense to the Bison.
Brock Jensen threw for 165 yards and two scores, a couple of his completions helping to convert four third downs on the go-ahead drive late in the fourth quarter. Sam Ojuri ran for 127 yards and John Crockett ran for 50 more, while Ryan Smith caught eight passes for 72 yards and a score.
“Tough one to swallow,” Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman said. “You work so hard for six months out of the year to get ready for the season and you go lay an egg like that.”
The silver lining for the Wildcats is they have an opportunity to get right the next couple of weeks against Louisiana and UMass. They don’t open Big 12 play until Sept. 21 at Texas.
“My father always told me that you get knocked down sometimes but you got to get back up and fight,” linebacker Tre Walker said. “Now people are really anxious to see what type of team we are going to be. What type of leadership we have. Are we really about everything that we talk about? Now is the time to take all of the mistakes we made, come together and focus. The season is certainly not over, we still have a lot of success to obtain, but right now we just need to regroup.”