Victory never tasted so sweet!
The No. 25 K-State Wildcats defeated the No. 18 NC State Wolfpack 28-19 on Dec. 28, 2023 in the Pop-Tarts Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. Avery Johnson, in his first collegiate start, threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score. DJ Giddens had 152 rushing yards and one score as well. The 9-4 Wildcats capped off their 2023 season by taking a bite of the Pop-Tarts Bowl’s edible mascot.
The K-State Alumni Association's official bowl travel package had more than 200 participants, including a chartered airplane full of Wildcats departing from the Manhattan Regional Airport. Accommodations were at the Hilton Orlando, the team hotel. On arrival, travelers were welcomed with a pool-side reception with food and beverages.
The following day, an estimated 5,000 fans packed Pointe Orlando with purple for the Pop-Tarts Bowl 2023 Pep Rally. This was the first bowl game in the state of Florida for K-State and the first time the Wildcats competed against NC State in a football game.
Gameday arrived and the much anticipated K-State Alumni Association Pregame served up a full BBQ buffet and plenty of beverage options. The K-State Marching Band, Willie the Wildcat and K-State Cheer also arrived for pregame performances.
As soon as kickoff occurred, the entire Camping World Stadium, as well as, TV viewers fell in love with the Pop-Tarts Bowl mascot, Strawberry – the nonedible version of the mascot, and then hours later mourned its death when it was devoured by the K-State Football team in a scrumptious postgame ceremony.
Avery Johnson captured bowl MVP honors after his first career start and the team was celebrating with Pop-Tarts in the end. According to Sports Watch Media, the game averaged 4.31 million viewers on ESPN — the largest audience of the bowl season outside of the College Football Playoffs.
"A great win for our program and for our seniors to finish the legacy of 2023 with this group and start a new journey with our 2024 guys," Head Coach Chris Klieman said. "That's what bowl games are becoming a little bit. We honored the seniors and got a glimpse of the 2024 group.”
When the game ended, the K-State Marching Band played Happy Trails and K-State fans chanted, "We want Pop-Tarts."
It was a sweet ending for K-State seniors in their final game.