Adrian Hilburn 'devastated' by call

NEW YORK -- The debut edition of the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium will be remembered for a highly controversial penalty flag that determined the outcome of the game.

With Syracuse leading 36-28 late in the fourth quarter, Kansas State quarterback Carson Coffman connected with wideout Adrian Hilburn on a 30-yard touchdown with 1:13 remaining.

Kansas State would have had to attempt a two-point conversion to tie the game. But that attempt got a whole lot harder when Hilburn was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following the touchdown for excessive celebration.

Hilburn gave a military-style salute in the direction of the back of the end zone after scoring the touchdown, which drew the flag.

The rule cited by the officials was Rule 9-2-1d, stating a penalty is justified for "any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player attempts to focus attention on himself [or themselves]."

The penalty was assessed on the point-after attempt -- meaning Kansas State had to score from the 18-yard line, instead of the 3. The pass fell incomplete, and Syracuse was able to run out the clock on the ensuing possession.

The game's head referee, Todd Geerlings -- part of a Big Ten crew -- was made available to a pool of reporters after the game.

"It was the salute, which was the judgment of the calling officials, which were the head linesman and the back judge," Geerlings said. "Two officials threw the flag, both judged it to be drawing attention to themselves, and that's what the flag was for.

"These kinds of excessive celebrations have been a priority in the rulebook for the last several years. There's a whole page in the rulebook pertaining to sportsmanship."

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder was asked about the call immediately after beginning his postgame news conference.

"I can't comment on that," Snyder said, when asked if the referees took the outcome of the game away from the players.

Another reporter asked Snyder if he received an explanation from the officials.

"I really can't," Snyder replied.

When pushed further, Synder responded, "I'm having a hard time avoiding this issue, I see. Well, yes, he gave me an explanation -- that the young man did something to call attention to himself."

Hilburn, a senior playing in the final game of his college career, had reddish eyes and a clenched jaw while speaking with reporters after the game.

"I was hurt, I was devastated," Hilburn said about the call. "I was just saluting. That's something you do out of respect, I guess, for your teammates or for your fans."

There was a large pocket of Kansas State fans sitting on that end of the field.

"Soon as it happened, [the official] said, 'Wrong choice buddy,' and looked at me," Hilburn said. "And I ran off and I'm like, 'Uh, OK.' And then I see a flag, and I'm like, 'Oh really? For that?'"

"I thought it was a bogus call," said Coffman, the quarterback. "I didn't see Adrian, but I heard he saluted. And I know you can't do that stuff -- it's in the rule book, excessive celebration or whatever -- but I thought it was a little bogus."

Hilburn said he's never had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on him.

"A lot of my teammates came up to me and told me they think that was a bull call," Hilburn said. "They were backing me up for the rest of our lives about this, because this is the last game I ever had at K-State."

Kieran Darcy is a contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.