November 11, 2008

Wildcats searching for positive ending

Kansas State coach Ron Prince might have made school history on Monday for the shortest weekly news conference on record. But it wasn't his fault. Thirteen minutes was plenty of time to properly outline the task facing the Wildcats. With two wins, K-State could enter bowl conversation, which could extend the careers of the senior class and also possibly those of Prince and his staff on the K-State sideline into December. A loss to Nebraska and the season dwindles to a mere seven days.

The Wildcats are hungry to finish their disappointing season with something positive.

"It'd be important for this program to get to the postseason for a couple of reasons," Prince said. "Whoever the new coach is will need some time to prepare his team if he's in place by the end of the regular season schedule. That would be very valuable time in addition to spring (practice). If it's our coaching staff, then obviously being able to try and send these kids out with a win would be very much a positive when you consider this would be the second bowl game since 2003.

"That'd be something very positive."

The daunting task begins at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday when K-State, 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big 12, faces a Nebraska team that improved to 6-4 and 3-3 with a 45-35 win against Kansas in Lincoln last weekend, thus lifting the Huskers to bowl eligibility under first-year coach Bo Pelini.

Prince looks to avoid his first five-game losing streak in his three seasons after the Wildcats suffered a 41-24 loss at then-No. 13 Missouri. The defeat arrived just three days after K-State announced it wouldn't retain Prince as head coach in 2009.

Prince, 16-19 overall, is determined to make the most of the time he has left with his players.

"I'm a professional," he said. "You don't get into coaching not to coach. It's not like this is the first time in the history of football that this has happened. You get so many games that you get to coach and that's what you like to do. It doesn't change."

The message fast became a rallying point among players eager to achieve at least one remaining preseason goal.

"It's such a tight-knit group of players and coaches," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "We had such a good offseason and a lot of things haven't gone our way. We just want to get this team into the postseason. We put in the hours and we feel like we need to step up and win some of these games."

K-State finished last season at 5-7 after dropping its final four games. The distaste of missing out on a bowl still lingers.

"Everybody is focused on getting these last two games," running back Lamark Brown said. "Nobody wants to sit at home like we did last year. We'll be pretty focused this week."

K-State returns home after playing four of its last five contests on the road. The Wildcats are 3-2 at home this season, but haven't won in front of their own fans since an eight-point win against Louisiana on Sept. 27. Since then, they've suffered losses at home to then-No. 7 Texas Tech (58-28) and then-No. 4 Oklahoma (58-35) -- two of three ranked opponents the Wildcats have faced in the last six contests.

After facing the Huskers, K-State finishes its regular season against Iowa State on Nov. 22.

"It should be a very positive thing for us to have these last two games at home if we win them both, that's for sure," Prince said. "The game this week requires our full attention because of all of the things, thinking about, 'OK, if you win this one at home, then this or that,' -- that's very distracting, especially when you consider the challenges we'll have."

It didn't take much to grasp players' motivation on Monday. They look to avoid the program's first four-game losing streak to the Huskers since K-State lost 29 straight in the series between 1969 and 1997.

More importantly, they look to redeem themselves from the unforgettable 73-31 loss in Lincoln a year ago.

"I don't think anybody won't have lingering feelings over that game, plus it's Nebraska," defensive end Ian Campbell said. "If you're a K-State fan, Nebraska is a big game. You don't want to get beat by an opponent, a rival or anybody for that matter. It sits sour with a lot of people, fans and players included."

Freeman completed 26 of 44 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but the Huskers rolled to 45 unanswered points behind Joe Ganz, who threw for a school-record 510 yards and seven touchdowns. Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan took out his aggressions on the Wildcats late with three touchdowns, including two through the air, during the final 15 minutes.

Campbell called it "the worst loss from a statistical standpoint and in every kind of standpoint that I've ever suffered."

"I thought they kind of ran it up on us, to be honest with you," he said. "Coach always says the football game is a game about respect. I felt like we weren't given it."

Outside linebacker Reggie Walker remembers it as being one of the longest outings he's ever been a part of. It assuredly made for a long trip home.

Walker appreciates that he'll get to finish out the regular season at home this time around. And he knows everything that he and his teammates are playing for.

"I'm glad I don't have to play my last game on the road. It's really great," Walker said. "Right now, me and everyone else, we're just playing for Coach Prince, our coaches and us. I'm going to play the same way whether there is one person in the stands are 50. It doesn't matter."

All the Wildcats will be focused on is the outcome.



 

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