PHOENIX/December 27,2017 (AP)(STL.NEWS) — Bill Snyder stood on a makeshift stage in the middle of a baseball stadium with a roof, a sparkling trophy at his side depicting a football sailing through cactus uprights.
If this was the end of his storied coaching career at Kansas State, it sure was a great way to go out.
Alex Delton ran for 158 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, leading the Wildcats to a 35-17 Cactus Bowl victory over UCLA on Tuesday night in what could be Snyder’s final game.
“We’ve got so many people to be proud of at Kansas State University and it starts with our players, quite obviously,” Snyder said.
Delton replaced Skylar Thompson late in the first quarter and scored on runs of 68 yards, 3 yards and 1 yard. Alex Barnes added 117 yards and a touchdown for the Wildcats, who rushed for 345 yards.
Kansas State (8-5) struggled in the first half against UCLA’s potent offense, but shut down the Bruins in the second to give Snyder his 210th — and possibly last — win with the Wildcats.
UCLA (6-7) played without top NFL prospect Josh Rosen, who’s recovering from a concussion, and built a 10-point halftime lead without its star quarterback.
The Bruins’ offensive success didn’t carry over into the second half and their defense had a hard time containing Delton, saddling interim coach Jedd Fisch with a loss in his last game before Chip Kelly takes over the program.
“We handled a ton of adversity this year and a ton of change,” Fisch said. “After the (USC) week, they continued to play as hard as possible.”
Snyder turned around one of the nation’s worst programs after taking over in 1989, leading the Wildcats to eight straight bowl appearances after un-retiring in 2008.
He says he has not decided whether he will return for a 27th season or retire again to spend time with his family.
The 78-year-old coach made a quarterback change in the first quarter of the Cactus Bowl after Thompson threw an interception. Delton had an immediate impact, bursting up the middle for a 68-yard touchdown run.
Snyder opted to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 in the third quarter, and Delton came through again, bulling his way through a massive pile — with some help from his teammates.
Kansas State’s Denzel Goolsby recovered Bolu Olorunfunmi’s fumble at the Bruins 24-yard line on the next play from scrimmage, and Delton hit Dominique Heath for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wildcats the lead.
“That was possibly the play of the ballgame,” Snyder said.
UCLA turned it over on downs — after a successful fake punt — and Kansas State turned its fourth-down try into a touchdown, with Alex Barnes putting the Wildcats up 28-17 with a 41-yard run.
Kansas State ended UCLA’s comeback hopes with an eight-minute drive capped by Delton’s final TD run.
“They wore us down,” Fisch said.
Rosen, expected to leave for the NFL after his junior year, was in uniform and warmed up before the game, but Devon Modster trotted out to the huddle.
The Bruins still had their big-play game going even without Rosen, building a 17-7 halftime lead on two long TD passes by Modster.
UCLA’s offensive roll ended with halftime. The Bruins had 100 total yards and three first downs in the second half.
“I just threw too many incomplete passes,” said Modster, who threw for 295 yards. “That’s pretty much it.”
If this was the final game of Snyder’s career, the Wildcats sent him out on a high note with a dominant second-half performance.
UCLA’s defense, a sore spot all season, had no answer for Delton, and its offense could have used Rosen in the second half.
Reports surfaced this week that Rosen wouldn’t play in the bowl game, possibly to protect himself from injury. Fisch shot that notion down quickly.
“I want to be clear on this: Josh wanted to play,” he said. “Josh was unable to play because of the fact that he had two concussions within a four-week span in November, and our physicians didn’t feel comfortable putting him out there and putting him at risk for a possibility of a third concussion.”
Kansas State: The Wildcats should be in good shape on offense next season whether Snyder returns or not. Kansas State has no seniors on its two-deep roster on offense, though there are five on defense.
UCLA: Kelly will likely have to replace Rosen when he takes over, but will have plenty of firepower returning. He’s also a top recruiter, so the Bruins should be well-stocked with talent.