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November 9, 2009

Vandalism helped fire up Wildcats

Motivation comes in different forms. And as if Kansas State players weren't already pumped up enough at the prospect of ending a three-game losing skid to Kansas, an opponent the Wildcats would have at a buzzing Bill Snyder Family Stadium where they hadn't lost all season, their appetite for battle went up a few more notches when they got off the bus in front of the Vanier Football Complex a couple hours before the Saturday morning kickoff.

Walking up wet steps to the complex, they noticed the stone pavers, too, were wet, along with the big Powercat in the center of the walkway. Odd, for a sunny morning.

Some players had heard rumors. They brushed it off.

That is, until K-State coach Bill Snyder stepped in front of the team prior to the Sunflower Showdown.

"Did you notice the sidewalk was wet this morning? It didn't rain."

Those are the words center Wade Weibert said he heard from the legendary head coach in a matter-of-fact tone. Weibert and his teammates sat in shock.

"I was thinking, 'Oh my gosh, it was true,'" Weibert said.

Turned out, somebody during the night had painted "KU," "Rock Chalk," and "52-21" -- the score of the Jayhawks' victory in Lawrence last season -- around and on the Powercat in big block letters with a water-based blue and red paint. Red and blue paint was spilt down the stairs to the complex. Red and blue paint dotted some of the parked vehicles outside the complex as well.

"We never saw it. Our custodians did a good job of cleaning it up," defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald said. "It definitely lit a fire under us, so we just used that as more motivation. We didn't need much motivation to get up for this game but that just added a little bit to the fire."

Weibert fumed.

"When coach Snyder said it was dumped on the Powercat, well, that really struck a nerve with me," Weibert said. "I was like, 'You know what? Forget that. The gloves are off. This is for real now.'

"I was very upset. It's a personal attack as this football team is our family and this school is our family. They were going after K-State. That logo is ours to protect. They dumped their colors on the Powercat. We won't let that go."

Safety Tysyn Hartman indicated that the act was payback of sorts.

"We kind of expected something with a rivalry like this," Hartman said. "We heard some of our fans went out and did something to one of their billboards. We kind of knew some type of retaliation would happen, but not something this close to home."

Running back Daniel Thomas who scorched Kansas' defense for a career-high 185 yards and a touchdown, afterward said, "That was bad on their behalf, I guess."

North Division-leading K-State improved to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Big 12 with a 17-10 win over Kansas, handing the Jayhawks their fourth straight loss for the first time in three seasons and in all probability knocking Kansas, 5-4 and 1-4, out of contention for the division title.

Meanwhile, K-State creeps that much closer to its first division championship since 2003 when it won its only Big 12 title.

"This was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but we have the capability to do it now," Fitzgerald said. "We just have to continue to get better week in and week out. We have to focus on Missouri this week. We can't really just focus on the long run."

K-State gets Missouri on the Wildcats' Senior Day on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. The Tigers, 5-4 and 1-4, continue to reel in dropping their fourth game in the last five contests with a 40-32 loss at home to Baylor.

K-State players continue to discuss taking the season a week at a time while embracing a situation nobody expected prior to the season. Projected by league coaches to finish fifth in the North and expected by some preseason magazines to win two or three games total, the Wildcats continue to climb, seemingly growing in confidence by the snap.

The pride that was absent at this time a year ago after the Jayhawks raced to their largest margin of victory in the Sunflower Showdown since 1985 -- a contest that effectively ended Ron Prince's tenure -- burst during the postgame aftermath.

Players talked about defending their "house." They talked about their legendary head coach.

"(Snyder) was happy that we won. It means something to him," wide receiver Brandon Banks said. "It's been a part of the majority of his life and it means a lot to him because of who he is to this program."

Most of all, players talked about respect, which they have earned back across the league in a matter of one season.

"The paint, that was a little bit of disrespect for our program and football team," left tackle Nick Stringer said. "We know what the Powercat stands for."

Fitzgerald said, "We knew what we needed to do."

Amazing what a little water-based paint can do.

"It was just an attempt to get under our skin. And it did," Weibert said. "Anytime somebody does something like that, they want for it to serve as a distraction. It didn't serve as a distraction. It gave us more anger."

Yes, the paint was washed away by the time the players arrived at the stadium.

Once on the field, in front of a crowd of 48,306 and a TV audience, the Wildcats spent 2 hours, 58 minutes washing away the Jayhawks' series winning streak.

"Symbolic? That's a very good way to think about it," Weibert grinned. "That's pretty funny. The streak is gone."

He paused.

"Now, it's our streak to keep going."


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