K-State comeback falls short as UCLA captures Alamo Bowl title

UCLA players celebrate following their 40-35 defeat of the Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl January 2, 2015, in San Antonio, Texas. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

K-State players walked into their Alamodome locker room Friday facing a 25-point deficit. All of the past month’s preparation, all the excitement and anticipation, drowned out by one of the most forgettable opening halves in program history.

That’s when head coach Bill Snyder did something that even senior wide receiver Curry Sexton hasn’t seen before.

“We came into halftime and it felt like the game was over and we’d already been beat,” Sexton said after the game. “Coach Snyder called the whole team up — he never does that — and said, ‘Houston was down 27 today in the fourth quarter today and came back. We can do this. We can come back and win this game.’ I think guys put it in their mind that one play at a time we were going to come back and win this game.”

Behind the 75-year-old football coach, a message was penned on the team’s whiteboard: “Your choice.” It, along with Snyder’s comments, did enough to fuel a near-improbable comeback in the 22nd edition of the Alamo Bowl.

UCLA’s 31-6 halftime lead slowly withered away in the second half. Not in one play, not in two. But little by little, K-State mounted one of the most impressive comebacks in bowl history.

But even after 15-unasnwered points in the third quarter, and two big touchdowns in the waning minutes of the game, the Wildcats had too few answers for Brett Hundley, Paul Perkins and the UCLA offense, which mounted 467 yards of total offense on their way to a 40-35 Alamo Bowl win.

“We knew no one on our team would quit, we knew that going in,” junior defensive back Dante Barnett said. “We knew it would be a hard fight back, and we fought back strong but made a costly mistake at the end.”

The mistake led to a 67-yard nail in the coffin for K-State’s upset chances. Perkins grabbed the ball from Hundley on the read option, found daylight and dashed down the field into the end zone to put the Bruins up two scores once more.

Perkins finished with 194 yards on the ground and two touchdowns. His star-studded quarterback, Hundley, rushed for 110 more yards and two touchdowns of his own (three total touchdowns on the night).

K-State provided one last-gasp effort following the Perkins touchdown. Seniors Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett connected on a 29-yard score to pull K-State within five points, 40-35. However, the ensuing onside kick was secured by UCLA, allowing the Bruins to pull out the victory formation to close out the game.

“Even down to the last minute, they break a 60-yard run when we think we’re going to get the ball back with a chance to win,” Sexton said. “Boston (Stiverson) gets hurt, one of our best players and leaders, and we still go down and score and we almost get an onside kick. There’s no quit in this team, it’s instilled in us.”

Lockett finished with an Alamo Bowl record 13 receptions, for 164 yards and two touchdowns, along with the game’s Sportsmanship Most-Valuable Player award. Sexton added 104 yards receiving and broke 1,000 yards on the year. It’s the first time in program history that two receivers finished a season over the 1,000-yard mark.

Waters capped off his K-State career throwing for 338 yards and two touchdowns on 31 for 48 passing, including a final 29-yard pitch-and-catch to Lockett to pull K-State within five points with 1:21 to play.

“They way those two work, I wish people could see the way they work on a daily basis,” Sexton said. “The chemistry they have, the time they put in, the communication they have with each other, it’s just unbelievable. K-State would be really fortunate to ever have a connection like that every again. It’s kind of a once-in-a-generation type of deal.”

K-State trailed 31-6 at halftime after the UCLA offense blazed the Wildcat defense for 312 first-half yards to just 104 for K-State. The Wildcats turned the ball over three times in the first half, resulting in 14 points for the Bruins.

“I’m proud of our young guys, that’s what I shared with them just a little bit ago,” Snyder said in the postgame press conference. “They didn’t give in, and they fought back. But I’ll also remember the first half as well. My count is that we left 28 points on the field in the first half, and that’s our fault. It wasn’t anything other than that. UCLA is a very fine football team and played extremely well. They were just so much better than we were in the first half. The execution wasn’t there.”

With the loss, K-State finishes its year 9-4. Twenty-two seniors played their last game in a K-State jersey Friday, including the likes of Lockett, Waters, Sexton, Ryan Mueller, B.J. Finney and Jonathan Truman.

“It’s sad,” Barnett said. “Some seniors, this is their last time ever playing football. Some we won’t ever see again once we leave this building. It’s very emotional for a team. These are friends that you grind every day of the week with. You miss holidays because you’re spending time with your team practicing to win games, and now it’s over.”