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January 4, 2013

Oregon downs K-State in Fiesta Bowl

GLENDALE. Ariz. -- Collin Klein's final game as a Kansas State Wildcat was not the ride into the sunset he hoped to have in the Valley of the Sun. The more accurate description was Klein and his team being stranded in the desert.

In a bizarre game that featured everything from fake extra points to a one-point safety, No. 4 Oregon defeated No. 5 K-State 35-17 in the 42nd Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night at University of Phoenix Stadium.

"We made mistakes early in the ballgame that, you know, were very costly," coach Bill Snyder said. "As I said to our football team, no one gave up. I appreciated their effort. We didn't play as well as we're capable of playing."

The first mistake was immediate and costly.

Oregon's DeAnthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff of the game 95 yards for a touchdown. The Ducks punched in a two-point conversion to put the Wildcats on their heels.

"I wasn't surprised by it," said Tyler Lockett, who has his fair share of kick return scores. "We need to get better at responding to adversity."

Oregon struck again with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Thomas with 3:46 left in the first quarter. Instead of fading, however, K-State played its best football in the following period. The Wildcats rallied off 10 straight points while stopping the Ducks' offense twice.

Klein scored K-State's first touchdown on a 6-yard run with 13:26 left in the second quarter.

"We fought hard tonight," Klein said. "It's about our family, it's about giving it all we had. Obviously, we didn't want it to end this way. At the end of the day, we just collectively didn't get it done."

The turning point of the contest occurred in the final minutes of the second quarter. A promising K-State drive stalled and a missed field goal handed Oregon the ball with a minute before halftime.

The Ducks did what they do best, putting together a five-play, 77-yard drive for a score that put Oregon ahead 22-10. From then on, the Wildcats never reestablished themselves.

"I would concur that (the sequence) had a significant impact on the ballgame," Snyder said. "I think we felt we had the opportunities to finish the game the right way, but we just didn't."

By the time K-State returned to the end zone, Oregon led 32-10 in the fourth quarter. Klein threw for just 47 yards after halftime while the Ducks' defensive line began to take control.

"I think the hardest thing is we had difficulty throwing the football," Snyder said. "We had some difficulty throwing it because they got the big rangy guys who got their hands up.

"The second half, when we fell behind, you get to a point after a while where you become one-sided, which we were."

Klein ended the night 17-of-32 passing for 151 yards, while adding 42 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner stole the show in the second half. His 120 rushing yards in the final 30 minutes of the game allowed the Ducks to extend drives. He rushed for 49 yards on a five-minute drive that set up Oregon's final field goal, which put the game out of reach with 2:27 left.

Mariota added 71 rushing yards and picked up three first downs on the ground in 3rd-and-long situations.

"He's a great young player and he has a bright future," senior linebacker Arthur Brown said of Mariota. "Just with the team we played tonight, they have a lot of guys around that complement who he is, what he's about. He was able to make some great plays for Oregon tonight."

K-State finished its season 11-2, tied for the most wins in school history. But Klein finished his career without a victory in a bowl game.

"It's a combination of things," Klein said. "We had opportunities and we came up short."

Despite the loss and the end of his collegiate career, Klein acted with the same class his fans have come to know and love.

"I'm just so proud to be a part of a team that did that and didn't allow anyone to tell us how good or bad we were going to be," he said. "It's overshadowed right now, but that is something to hang our hat on. I'm proud to have been a part of it."

Wildcat fans are probably proud of Klein and the rest of the team, too.



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