"I thought Iowa State did a terrific job today." With those words, Ron Prince began his final postgame address as head coach of the Kansas State Wildcats just as he had so many others -- by giving due credit to the opponent. With his Wildcat coaching career finished and his future uncertain, Prince could have addressed just about anything.
Instead, on the heels of K-State's 38-30 victory over the Iowa State Cyclones, he opted to stick with the norm. "I'm really satisfied that we got the win," Prince said.
Although few postgame questions actually centered on the game that had finished just minutes prior, Prince did not waver on his level of satisfaction with the victory.
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"I'm happy we won a game. It's hard to win these games."
"The way that I've been raised not only as a kid but in this profession is to be the same guy every day," Prince said, "to be very consistent in what you're doing and to have a plan, to work that plan, and to make adjustments along the way."
Prince's consistency was fitting, as his Wildcats closed the season with an effort that seemed summarize the 2008 campaign, for better or for worse.
Once again, the Wildcat passing game was the offensive focus. Quarterback Josh Freeman led the K-State air attack with 279 yards through the air. His four touchdown passes tied a school record. Freeman connected with receiver Deon Murphy for a pair of his touchdowns.
As he had been all season, wide receiver Brandon Banks was the Wildcats' top receiving threat on Saturday. Banks caught seven passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. "Brandon Banks was terrific again," Prince said of the junior. "He's been that way since he's been here."
While the Wildcat offense advanced by air, the Wildcat defense allowed yards in bunches, again with alarming consistency. The Cyclones piled up 626 yards against the Wildcats, marking the eighth time the Wildcats have given up 500 or more yards in the last ten games. "We were content to give up the yards," Prince said. "We just didn't want to give up a whole bunch of points." A trio of forced turnovers helped the Wildcats overcome the Cyclone offensive attack.
As it has often been during Prince's tenure as head coach, the Wildcat special teams unit proved to be a strength on Saturday. The Cyclones advanced down to the Wildcat 17-yard line on the opening drive, but Campbell broke through the line to snuff out Cyclone kicker Grant Mahoney's 34-yard field goal attempt. The block marked K-State's ninth blocked kick of the season, a new school record.
Campbell also recovered a fumble later in the game and drew rave reviews from his coach following the senior's final collegiate game. "He's an awesome kid," Prince said. "A great leader."
On the heels of Campbell's block, the Wildcats advanced 80 yards in eight plays to mark the first score of the game. Running back Lamark Brown's 1-yard carry gave the Wildcats and early 7-0 lead.
Prince even dusted off the "bold and daring" chapter of his playbook, attempting a fake field goal in the third quarter. "We got a little bit daring there," Prince said of the attempt. "We could have gone for the points, but we wanted to try to play as aggressively as we could."
Meanwhile, the Iowa State gameplan leaned heavily on testing K-State's rushing defense, which entered Saturday allowing an average of 222 rushing yards per contest. Although the Cyclones entered their season finale averaging just 136 yards per game on the ground, they racked up 158 first half rushing yards against the Wildcats on Saturday. Iowa State rushed the ball on each of the 13 plays in their first scoring drive.
Iowa State finished the game with an overwhelming 623 yards of offense, but one drive ended in the blocked field goal and three others, including one at the KSU 5, ended in turnovers.
With the score knotted at 14 in the second quarter and the Cyclones threatening to grab the lead, a Joshua Moore interception flipped the momentum back in the Wildcats' favor. Following Moore's pick, the K-State zipped into the end zone thanks in large part to Banks' quick feet. Banks had three receptions on the drive, accounting for 61 of the 63 yards the Wildcats traveled. Banks' 20-yard touchdown gave the Wildcats a 21-14 edge, and the Wildcats led the rest of the way.
The K-State victory ended a five-game losing streak for the Wildcats. "This has been one of the first experiences I've had with losing," Prince said, reflecting on his time at K-State. "It really wears on people."
The K-State season finale may have been an illustrated lesson in consistency, but the Wildcats' future is anything but certain. With the announcement of a new head coach on the horizon, current Wildcats remain unsure of what the future might hold. Nevertheless, returning Wildcats and seniors alike don't seem worried about events they can't control.
"It's not our decision," Murphy said. "We just have to sit back and wait and do our jobs."
"Just like we've been doing," Banks said, "we're going to overcome adversity. Whoever comes in (to coach), we'll just have to listen and do what they tell us to do and go out there and win ball games. It's going to be the same, just with a different coach."
"I'll support whatever decision they make with who they bring in," Campbell said. "I'll always bleed purple."