Defense flourishes, offense sputters in loss to Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. — The last time the K-State football team traveled to Lincoln, Neb., the defense had one of its worst performances in school history, giving up 73 points in a lopsided defeat. This time, it was a whole different story.

The Wildcats (6-6, 4-4 Big 12 Conference) were held out of the end zone for the second straight game as they were defeated 17-3 by Nebraska (8-3, 5-2) Saturday night.

The loss marks the end of the 2009 season for K-State. The Wildcats entered the game one win shy of a Big 12 North division title and bowl eligibility. Last year, they entered the season finale having lost six of their last seven games.

“Obviously, Coach Snyder is a tremendous football coach,” said Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini. “His staff has done a good job. The kids are playing harder, they’re executing better. They’re just a better football team now. It’s not as much what they do, it’s how they’re doing it.”

K-State’s offense showed some promise on its opening drive, as the team marched 58 yards on 10 plays and capped off the drive with a 44-yard field goal from junior kicker Josh Cherry to take a 3-0 lead. But that’s all the offense the Wildcats could muster in the contest.

Nebraska answered with a 34-yard boot by junior kicker Alex Henery on the ensuing drive and went up for good when junior quarterback Zac Lee hit junior tight end Mike McNeill on a 17-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter.

The Huskers threatened to add to their lead midway through the second quarter when they drove deep into K-State territory, but sophomore safety Tysyn Hartman picked off a Lee pass in the end zone and returned it to the Wildcat 42-yard line. But K-State couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity as senior quarterback gave possession back to Nebraska when he was intercepted at the 16.

The Wildcats forced a Nebraska punt and long runs by Gregory and Daniel Thomas which put K-State at the Husker 33, but a 51-yard field goal attempt by Cherry fell short as time expired. It was only Cherry’s second miss since the start of conference play.

The Huskers added seven more points when Roy Helu Jr. broke free on a 14-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the second half. Two plays earlier, Hartman went down with a leg injury and was helped off the field and Lee connected with junior wide receiver Niles Paul for a 47-yard gain.

The Wildcats best opportunity to score came on the ensuing drive as they drove into the red zone. It appeared K-State had cut the deficit back to one score when Gregory hit senior running back on a 12-yard pass between the hash marks, but senior safety Larry Asante jarred the ball loose inside the one-yard line and the fumble was recovered by the Huskers.

“Our kids have an attitude about keeping people out of the end zone,” Pelini said. “We’d like that they don’t get down there and get in that situation. That would be my preference, but it was a good job of making a play at the time.”

K-State missed another scoring opportunity when Cherry’s 32-yard attempt sailed wide right late in the third quarter. The offense didn’t threaten again as the Huskers controlled the clock for the majority of the game’s final period.

After the game, K-State head coach Bill Snyder said missed offensive opportunities were the deciding factor in the contest.

“I thought we played well enough to win defensively, we just couldn’t score on offense,” Snyder said. “[Nebraska] is a very good defensive football team, so understand that. But we just weren’t nearly as good as we needed to be to have an opportunity to win the ball game.”

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