When the final seconds ran off the clock on the K-State Wildcats’ football season at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ last Thursday, the disappointment was clear on the faces of the purple-clad coaches, players, and fans. A day that began with so much promise, so much excitement at the opportunity for the program’s first 12 win season in history, ended in bitter defeat.
From the opening kickoff, which was returned 94 yards for a touchdown by Oregon’s DeAnthony Thomas, nothing went quite right for the Cats, who ultimately fell 35-17 to Chip Kelly’s Ducks.
However, this season was far from a disappointment for the Wildcats, who appeared in their first BCS bowl since 2004 after winning the Big 12 title. The Cats were even the number one team in the nation for awhile, and looked to be headed for the BCS National Championship until suffering their first loss of the season in Waco, Texas to a severely underrated Baylor team.
Senior QB Collin Klein finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, and the Wildcats generally far exceeded expectations all season after a #22 preseason ranking.
When K-State accepted a bid to the Fiesta Bowl after defeating Texas in the final game of the regular season, fans were optimistic, despite the bitter taste and questions of “What if?” left by the Baylor game. For Oregon, on the other hand, who appeared in their fourth consecutive BCS bowl, and would have played in the national title game if it weren’t for a missed field goal in overtime against conference-rival Stanford, the questions were that much louder.
Oregon showed that they deserved a shot at the title, especially after Alabama absolutely dismantled previously undefeated Notre Dame 42-14 in the big game for their second consecutive championship.
K-State fans can’t overlook the fact that they played one of the best teams in the nation, and hung with them for at least a half.There’s no telling what might have happened if a few first-half plays had gone differently.
Late in the second quarter, down five points, the Cats had the ball in Oregon territory, and tried to draw the Ducks offsides on fourth and one. However, a K-State lineman jumped early, resulting in a five-yard false start penalty and forcing Anthony Cantele to kick from 40 yards rather than 35. Cantele missed the kick, usually a chip shot for him, and the Ducks unleashed a lightning-fast scoring drive to take a 12-point lead into halftime, a ten-point swing for the Wildcats.
Earlier on the same drive, Bill Snyder unleashed a rare bit of trickery when senior running back Angelo Pease took a pitch from Klein and pulled up to throw. After ducking a tackle, Pease tossed a 45-yard bomb that hit senior wideout Chris Harper square in the hands on the one yard line, but Oregon defensive back Brian Jackson made a spectacular defensive play to break up the pass. Were Harper to hang on to the ball, the Cats would have had a first and goal on the one, and a prime opportunity to take their first lead of the game.Even with a 12-point deficit, K-State came into the second half optimistic that they could get back in the game. The third quarter, however, was all Oregon, and the Ducks cruised home for the Fiesta Bowl title.
Twenty-seven seniors played their final games for the Wildcats, including Klein, whose last play in a spectacular career for the Cats was, unfortunately, an interception.
In the most competitive conference in college football, K-State will have its work cut out for them in defense of their title, but counting them out would be unwise. Daniel Sams, entering his sophomore season, will be the frontrunner to take over for Klein, but Jake Waters, a junior college transfer who won the NJCAA National Player of the Year Award will give him some competition.
Despite the undeniably ugly finish, the 2012 season will go down as one of the greatest in K-State history. With Bill Snyder still at the helm, and a number of key players, including veteran linebacker and team leader Tre Walker, who missed the Fiesta Bowl with an injury, back next season, don’t expect the Cats to drop off the national radar just yet. That’s just not the K-State Wildcats’ style.
Mike Stanton is a freshman in journalism and mass communications. Please send all comments to [email protected]