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August 31, 2013Anyone with experience at family reunions knows it's not uncommon for things to get awkward in a hurry. Kansas State's season opener Friday night could certainly be described as such.
On a night dedicated to honoring the tradition of K-State football under coach Bill Snyder, the Wildcats started 2013 in sour fashion with a 24-21 loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State in front of a stunned record crowd.
"They're an extremely fine football team," Snyder said of the two-time defending FCS champions. "They play very, very hard. They're a tough football team. They played harder than we did. They were tougher than we were. They were better coached than we were.
"I'm sure it's tremendously disappointing for our fans. They've always meant so much to us and we let them down. I feel badly about that and hopefully our players do as well."
For a while, it appeared the night might have a much happier ending, before NDSU rallied in very Snyder-like fashion.
"We made a lot of mistakes and took a lot of things for granted," K-State center B.J. Finney said. "We made too many mistakes tonight in the first half and second half. We made more mistakes than North Dakota State."
The teams plagued their way through a sloppy first half and took a 7-7 draw into halftime. The lone highlight for the Wildcats came on a 45-yard touchdown strike from new quarterback Jake Waters to Tramaine Thompson.
Then, typical of Snyder teams in recent memory, K-State played its best football of the night after the intermission.
Waters hit Tyler Lockett for a 56-yard touchdown strike a minute into the third quarter. After an interception, Daniel Sams joined the action with a 17-yard touchdown run to put the Wildcats ahead 21-7.
At the time, it appeared K-State may have been on its way to leaving another nonconference opponent in the dust. But the Bison, assisted by K-State mistakes, refused to go away.
"You could say that we got too complacent," Lockett said. "But at the end of the day, what happened is what happened. You can't do anything about it. North Dakota State fought back. You have to give them credit for that."
The Bison climbed within a score with a 12-play, 75-yard drive immediately after facing a 14-point deficit.
It was an impressive statement of determination in front of 53,351 fans, the second-largest crowd in K-State history.
"I would like to congratulate all of our players," NDSU coach Craig Bohl said. "It was a great effort on their part, showing determination and resolve when we were down.
"Many, many teams have come in and Kansas State has jumped up and those teams have folded. Our guys did not."
NDSU continued the comeback with a field goal to end the third quarter. Meanwhile, the K-State offense continued to put together promising drives before sputtering in Bison territory.
Of primary concern was the running game, which accumulated just 41 yards on 23 carries, one of the worst performances in recent memory. Senior John Hubert had 28 yards on the ground.
"I should have played better and it kind of went through the unit," Finney said. "I want to hold myself to a higher standard. I want to everybody else in that unit to a higher standard. We have to execute. We have to be better."
Meanwhile, the defensive line had troubles of its own, allowing 215 yards rushing from the Bison. But no statistic or figure is as unsettling as what NDSU accomplished on its final, game-winning drive -- four consecutive conversions on third down.
"That's very upsetting, to do well on first and second down and let something slip on third down," linebacker Tre Walker said. "For them to do that time and time again was frustrating."
The Bison marched 80 yards in 18 plays over an astounding 8:30, with quarterback Brock Jensen punching in the winning score with 28 seconds left.
It was the classic Snyder drive, but this one happened against him.
"I could see we were having trouble stopping them, so the first thing I did was tell our coaches to get the two-minute offense ready," Snyder said.
NDSU barely even allowed time for an attempt to force overtime. Waters was intercepted on the first play of the ensuing drive to secure the Bison's fourth win over a FBS team in as many seasons.
"We have a remarkable program," Bohl said. "We have a remarkable group of seniors and they have a tremendous amount of confidence."
Waters finished the night 21 of 29 passing for 280 yards, two scores and two interceptions. Now, his team is left searching for answers.
"This is the first game for a lot of us, and we learned a lot, but we need to learn the things you need to do to win," Waters said. "You can take some stuff from this game, but we need to move on from it."
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