Purple pride on display

1/4/2013

Wildcats fall, but local faithful relish in team's accomplishments.

Wildcats fall, but local faithful relish in team's accomplishments.

BY BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

Travis Leonard, who farms near Sublette, is a 2003 Kansas State University graduate and will be getting married on March 9 to Michelle Kuhn of Satanta.

Justin Lupfer played high school football and won a state championship in 8-man football while at Hanston High School. He and Lonnie Perez of Kendall, are both 2011 KSU graduates and plan to be married in June.

Chris and Nikki Omesnki, both Wichita natives now residing in Garden City, have family roots in Purple Pride.

Frank Schmale is a 1982 graduate from K-State when the Wildcats were considered to be among the worst football teams in the college ranks. His wife, Cheryl, has become a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Bill Snyder's program.

The common denominator on Thursday night was that all of them were watching from various local restaurants the 2013 Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., where the No. 5-ranked Wildcats were taking on the No. 4-ranked Oregon Ducks.

And even though the Wildcats eventually fell to the high-powered Ducks, 35-17, it didn't change the pride and admiration the local K-State faithful felt toward the team and what it had accomplished.

Fans watching at Jax Sports Grille and Samy's Spirits and Steakhouse had high hopes and were filled with optimism before the game's start at 7:30 p.m.

Those hopes took a hit early when the Ducks' De'Anthony Thomas took the opening kickoff 94 yards for a score just 12 seconds into what some consider K-State's biggest game in program history.

"It's awesome to see them in a game like this," Leonard said prior to the kickoff. "It's hard to know how they'll play after such a long layoff. But when you've got a coach like Snyder and a quarterback like (Collin) Klein and a linebacker like (Arthur) Brown, you know the team will have a chance."

Leonard said he is most proud of the K-State team for the way in which Snyder has operated the program through the years.

"He does it in the right way," Leonard said. "This has been a fun team to watch. You don't hear a lot of bad stuff coming out of the program."

His fiance, Michelle Kuhn, teaches and coaches at Satanta High School and is a Sterling College graduate. Her father, though, is a KSU graduate, so there are ties there, as well.

Lupfer and Perez both have degrees from K-State — Lupfer in animal science and Perez in life science. Their June wedding was the deterrent to attending the game in person.

"Well, it was going to the game or having a honeymoon," Perez, who is in nursing school here, said with a smile. "We both love the Wildcats, but we also wanted a honeymoon this summer."

Lupfer said he wasn't surprised at how well the Wildcats had done this season.

"Coach Snyder has spent a lot of time building the program, and he's done it twice now," Lupfer said.

Perez concurred with her soon-to-be husband.

"He's brought the program back again, and he's just done amazing things," Perez said. "I really like Klein. He's just a quality person and has been a great leader."

The Omenskis just moved to Garden City in August, and Chris is a CRNA at St. Catherine Hospital while his wife, Nikki, is a stay-at-home mom of four children. The evening out was a welcome break for her.

"I'm not really a big football fan, but getting a night away from the kids, it's like a vacation," she said with a big smile.

For Chris, the Purple blood runs deep as both of his parents and a brother are K-State grads. He is a Newman University alumnus while Nikki graduated from Wichita State University.

"Oregon's tough, and they're a high-scoring team," Chris Omenski said. "K-State's defense will have to show up, and if they can capitalize on turnovers, that's what they have to do be able to win."

Oregon dominated the first half early, taking a 15-0 lead before K-State trimmed the lead to 15-10 before a late quick-strike drive by the Ducks provided them a 22-10 halftime bulge.

Frank Schmale was cautiously hopeful at halftime despite trailing by the 12-point margin.

"Our only hope is to find a way to get over their speed," Schmale said of Oregon's offensive attack. "To be this highly rated, it's a big moment for the program. When I was in school, K-State was terrible. But Snyder has been as good a coach in college football history as anybody. What he's done, now twice, is remarkable. It's an exciting time at K-State to see what they're doing, being able to attract top recruits to play there."

But all the hopes for the Wildcat faithful could not be realized as Oregon dominated most of the second half, building a 32-10 lead before finishing with a 35-17 victory.

Still, the 11-2 season mark by the Wildcats equaled the most wins in school history, and their Big 12 Conference championship came in a season when they were picked to finish sixth in the league.

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