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K-State Bowl History Part 3: The Doldrums

The Wildcats won only one bowl in a decade spanning from Snyder I to Snyder II.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Kansas State v Syracuse
Adrian Hilburn scores the final touchdown of the 2010 Pinstripe Bowl to cut Syracuse’s lead to 2, moments before being penalized 15 yards for saluting the crowd, making the 2-point conversion attempt much more difficult.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In part two of our look at K-State’s bowl history, we examined probably the best five-year stretch in team history. Today’s batch of five bowl games starts off strong before making a four-game faceplant.

2002 Holiday Bowl

The 2002 Wildcats were a force of nature. The swarming, crushing defense led what is now called FBS in scoring defense at 11.8 points per game. Cornerback Terence Newman, a Salina native, was selected fourth overall in the NFL draft after the season (Newman remains a successful NFL player even now at 39 years old, tallying 4 tackles in the Minnesota Viking’s victory on Dec. 23). On the other side of the ball, K-State averaged 44.8 points per game, led by quarterback Ell Roberson and halfback Darren Sproles. In short-yardage situations, the Wildcats used the ultimate jumbo package, with Nick (Hoheisel), Vic(tor Mann), and Thick (Ayo Saba) in the backfield, combining for 10 rushing touchdowns. The 64-0 victory over Kansas remains the largest margin in Sunflower Showdown history.

But losses at Colorado and at home against Texas kept K-State out of the Big 12 Championship game and the BCS, and the sixth-ranked 10-2 Wildcats made their third trip to San Diego in eight seasons to play unranked 8-5 Arizona State.

Rushing touchdowns of 41 and 32 yards by Sproles and Roberson respectively kept K-State in striking distance during the first half, but the Wildcats trailed 20-14 at halftime, and by the same score after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, Roberson scored on a 3-yard keeper, but a missed PAT meant the game was merely tied. A Mike Williams touchdown catch gave Arizona State the lead back, but another Roberson score — on a 1-yard sneak — tied the game again. And with 1:15 left, Roberson threw a touchdown to Derrick Evans for the winning score, 34-27.

The victory brought K-State’s record in the Holiday Bowl (and in bowl games in California) to 3-0. It would be K-State’s last bowl victory for more than a decade.

2004 Fiesta Bowl

The 2003 Wildcats had a maddening first half of the season, losing consecutive games to Marshall, Texas, and Oklahoma State after being ranked No. 6 in the country. Whooping Nebraska so badly in Lincoln, 38-9, that the Huskers canned Frank Solich after the season made up for a lot of frustration. Then the Wildcats obliterated No. 1 Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, 35-7, to win K-State’s first Big 12 title and first BCS bowl trip. (If you haven’t read Derek Smith’s excellent retrospective of that Oklahoma game, do yourself a favor and check it out.)

K-State was headed back to Tempe, Arizona, for a Fiesta Bowl date against Ohio State. It was a good matchup on paper, No. 7 vs. No. 8, but on the eve of the game sexual assault accusations were leveled against Roberson, casting a pall over the game although no charges were ever filed.

K-State fell behind 7-0 when Ohio State blocked a punt and returned it for a TD, and the Buckeyes extended that to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. K-State cut into that lead with a Sproles touchdown before halftime. A Roberson scramble trimmed the deficit again with his own touchdown run in the third quarter, but Ohio State responded with its own touchdown, pushing the lead back to 28-14, then 35-14.

K-State mounted a comeback attempt, with touchdowns by Saba and Roberson, but Ohio State recovered an onside kick with 2:47 left to preserve their victory.

2006 Texas Bowl

In 2006, one year removed from Bill Snyder’s retirement, K-State went 7-5 under first-year head coach [REDACTED] and advanced to play 10-2 Rutgers in the inaugural Texas Bowl.

The less said about this season and bowl game, the better. Yamon Figurs had a great 76-yard punt return for K-State’s only touchdown as the Wildcats lost 37-10.

2010 Pinstripe Bowl

K-State failed to make another bowl during [REDACTED]’s tenure, and Snyder returned to the sideline in 2009. A 6-6 record wasn’t good enough to qualify for a bowl because two of K-State’s wins came against FCS teams, but in 2010 a 7-5 record earned the Wildcats a trip to another bowl game’s first edition — the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium against 7-5 Syracuse.

K-State took an early 7-0 lead on a 51-yard run by Daniel Thomas. After Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib threw a pair of long touchdowns to Marcus Sales, Thomas tied it with another touchdown run, sending the game to halftime at 14-14. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, and again late in the third and early in the fourth. The difference was a missed extra point by Syracuse, giving K-State a 28-27 lead. Another Syracuse touchdown and missed 2-point attempt, followed by a field goal, put the Orange ahead 36-28 with 3:08 left.

Carson Coffman, of all people, led the Wildcats on a successful two-minute drill, scoring on a 30-yard pass to Adrian Hilburn with 1:13 left. A 2-point conversion would have tied the game again and likely sent it to overtime. But there was a penalty flag after the touchdown. The refs gave Hilburn an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for saluting the crowd after his touchdown. That changed the 2-point try from 2 yards to 17 yards, and K-State was unable to convert. K-State lost, 36-34, and K-State getting screwed again led to a change in the rules, again too late to help the Wildcats. In the aftermath of the game, the NCAA revised guidance to not penalize celebration but instead to penalize taunting.

2012 Cotton Bowl

K-State made big strides in 2011, Collin Klein’s first year as full-time starting quarterback. The Wildcats went 10-2 in the regular season, 7-2 in the newly minted round-robin Big 12 schedule, resulting in a shot at No. 7 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

The game mostly went poorly for K-State, as Arkansas played outstanding run defense throughout. The Wildcats did register two highlights, though. The first came when kick-blocking specialist Raphael Guidry knocked down an extra point attempt and Nigel Malone took it back for 2 points to pull K-State within 17, 19-2. The other highlight of the first half came when Klein threw a touchdown to tight end Andre McDonald. K-State hasn’t attempted a pass to a tight end since that.

A 6-yard run by Klein in the third quarter pulled K-State within a field goal of Arkansas, 19-16, but the Razorbacks added another touchdown and a field goal to close out the game, 29-16.