December 30, 2010
Syracuse 36, Kansas State 34. All things considered, Kansas State and Syracuse probably gave us the most entertaining game of a tepid bowl season this afternoon, across the board. The offenses combined for 70 points, 888 total yards and four second half lead changes. Syracuse running back Delone Carter and receiver Marcus Sales delivered career performances, racking up 371 yards and five touchdowns between them. Neither team turned the ball over. There were at least two hilarious moments involving officials, and at least one player suffered a minor injury while over-enthusiastically celebrating a minor success.
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In the end, Syracuse left the stadium with its eighth victory of the season, doubling the Orange's best effort in the win column since 2004. (That would be Yankee Stadium, by the way, hosting its first postseason game since 1962, on the heels of a blizzard.) All of which was immediately overshadowed on Kansas State receiver Adrian Hilburn's 30-yard touchdown reception to bring the Wildcats within a two-point conversion of tying the game with 1:24 on the clock, when Hilburn's post-touchdown salute was met with the most dubious flag of the postseason, at least:
The touchdown stood, but instead of attempting a two-point conversion to tie from the Syracuse three-yard line, the Wildcats were forced into a longshot heave from the 'Cuse 18 and, when that (predictably) failed, a desperation onside kick. That failed, too, allowing Syracuse to run the clock out on its biggest win in nearly a decade.
Is it the worst call of the year? In technical terms, probably not, since it can be conceivably justified by the rule book as a player drawing attention to himself. (The Wildcats might get a "clarification" from the bowl or the Big Ten, which supplied the crew for the game, but almost certainly not the mea culpa the SEC issued last year after a bogus celebration call against Georgia.) In practical terms, coming against a senior who didn't taunt his opponent, throw the ball into the crowd or break into any sort of elaborate dance after taking in his second career touchdown in the most crucial moment of probably the biggest stage of his life, it has to be up there. And for its immediate impact on the outcome, I'm inclined to give it the title.
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In the meantime, Syracuse fans should enjoy the victory, unless they're the type of fan who responds to this sort of thing by saying "act like you've been there before," in which case I imagine they find it difficult to enjoy anything. But even the over-legislated "No Fun League" thinks the guy who threw that flag is a self-important killjoy. Let 'em play, and occasionally salute.
[Update, 8:26 a.m. ET, 12/31] If you started listing the counter-examples of similar salutes (and worse) that aren't flagged – beginning with Tennessee's repeated post-touchdown salutes in Thursday night's Music City Bowl loss to North Carolina, another controversial finish overseen by Big Ten officials – you'd never stop. But Hilburn didn't even have to think outside of this game to call out the inconsistency:
"I really don't agree with the call. My teammates are backing me on the call," a distraught Hilburn said afterward. "I saw our opponent throw up diamond signs after they score a touchdown and now I give a salute? What's that? Respecting our soldiers? It hurts.
"I know we're kind of on their turf and I shouldn't have done it but I still don't think that was a good call."
I'm not sure I believe that "our soldiers" were anywhere in Hilburn's mind during the touchdown, but the guy has a point: If you're going to nitpick, at least be consistent enough about it that players know what to expect.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.
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