With defense and special teams leading the way, K-State found themselves leaving Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a shutout and a 1-0 record on their minds.
The Wildcats opened up the game with a head turning kick-off return and didn’t look back as they routed the Coyotes of South Dakota 34-0.
“I thought it was great to get a shutout,” K-State head coach Bill Snyder said. “No matter who you line up and play against those are not easy to come by in this day and age.”
K-State got off to a quick start as senior wide reciever and kick returner Morgan Burns raced the full length of the field on his 100 yard kick return to give K-State a 7-0 advantage in just 12 seconds.
“What I saw is that we missed a block,” Snyder said.”Everybody else did a nice job and helped him immensely and obviously, he did a nice job as well.”
The kick-off marked the 11th straight season in which K-State has registered a kick-off return for a touchdown, a nation leading statistic. It was also the first game opening kick return for K-State since 2006.
“I was excited,” Burns said. “I was just full of excitment. Overjoyed. It’s just a great way to start a game.”
After that the winds of good fortune ceased for a bit after, on K-State’s first offensive drive, sophomore quarterback Jesse Ertz was injured on a quarterback run on his first play of the game. Ertz was then carted out of the stadium and was not seen for the remaining duration of the game.
“It’s tough to see but that’s part of football,” senior offensive lineman Cody Whitehair said. “It’s the adversity that a team has to overcome.”
After Ertz’s exit. It was back-up Joe Hubener’s job to run the offense and while he ended up with a decent statline putting up 147 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 47 more, it took several series to get things going.
“Joe, I think, was probably a little nervous,” Snyder said. “He and (freshman quarterback Alex Delton) both took a while to kind of get the cobwebs off. That was true for everybody. It wasn’t just Joe.”
The offense stalled several times, including fumbling on the goal line and settling with a field goal after driving down to South Dakota’s six yard line.
“We did the things that hurt a lot of offenses,” Whitehair said. “We got turnovers and penalties. So overall we’re not where we want to be yet. You know, we’ve got a little work to do and we’ll fix that next week.”
However, a spark seemed to come with a change at the running back position. Junior running back Charles Jones, the starter, seemed to have trouble getting anything going but when freshman Justin Silmon got his chance, he put up 51 yards (which led K-State) and averaged 8.5 yards per carry.
“”After the first couple runs it just comes back to what you’ve been doing since you were six years old,” Silmon said. “The offense was executing and the line took a little bit of pressure off of me by opening up the holes so wide.”
In fact, Silmon wasn’t the only freshman who helped K-State on the ground.
Fullback Winston Dimel recorded two touchdowns on the night, pounding it in from the 2 and the 1 yard line.
The son of offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, the younger Dimel’s hard work has caught the eye of the coaching and now is starting to carve out a nice part of the offense for himself.
“Winston has done a nice job of being an aggressive runner and an aggressive passer,” Snyder said. “I’ve been impressed with the fact that he’s been a multi-faceted player and when he runs the ball he runs hard and is a little more deceptive than what I thought coming with the genes that he has.”
Youth even prevailed throught the air as freshman speedster and wide receiver Dominique Heath led K-State in receiving with 54 yards and put up 52 more yards returning punts.
“It was a nice first step,” senior wide receiver and special teams captain Stanton Weber said. “I was very proud of (Heath). He really did a nice job being his first collegiate game.”
Heath made one seemingly miraculous catch where it seemed like he saved a pass from being intercepted by jumping in front of it and taking it for a 43 yard gain.
“Dominique made that tremendously gifted catch,” Snyder said. “Took it away from, really it was a interception, but he did a nice job of taking it away from him,. That’s something that young players really don’t do. So that sent a message to me about his development.”
But most likely the biggest star of the evening was the defense who held the Coyotes to 266 yards total including just 61 yards on the ground in addition to the aforementioned 0 points.
“It’s a great starting point for the defense,” senior defense tackle Travis Britz said. “We obviously have a lot to improve on. We made mistakes. So it was a good thing to knock the rust off. We haven’t played for eight months so going out with a shutout was pretty good for a starting spot.”
Sophomore Elijah Lee led all players with 6 tackles while 3 players had five including senior safety Dante Barnett who left the field in the first half with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. He did not return for the remainder of the game.
K-State will take their show on the road next week as they head back to a fairly familiar Alamodome in San Antonio to take on University of Texas-San Antonio.