ARLINGTON, Texas — Collin Klein picked himself off the field visibly frustrated after being sacked for the second time inside the final two minutes of the game.
It didn’t take long thereafter for the chants of S-E-C to begin ringing throughout a packed Cowboys Stadium.
It was that kind of game for Klein and the rest of the Kansas State offense, as Arkansas took advantage of a mistake-ridden night by the Wildcats to win the Cotton Bowl 29-16 on Friday.
“We got off to an awfully bad start and really couldn’t overcome the damage that we did, and most of it was pretty obvious,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said.
K-State made a living this season by coming up with big plays at all the right times, while often serving as the model for disciplined football.
Such wasn’t the case on this night, though, as the No. 11 Wildcats battled penalties and failed to protect Klein, while receivers dropped passes and defenders found themselves out of position — all of which helped the No. 7 Razorbacks squelch a storybook ending to K-State’s improbable season.
“We had four dropped balls, we had two turnovers, we had four penalties — all in the first half — which dramatically hurt us,” Snyder said. “We just weren’t ready to play. That’s my responsibility, to have our guys ready to play.”
Though the Razorbacks struggled offensively as well, Arkansas found enough big plays when it needed them to build an early lead that it would never surrender.
K-State didn’t help its cause early, however, as Klein fumbled when he was sacked from his blindside deep in the Wildcats’ territory, setting up a 26-yard field goal by Zach Hocker to put Arkansas ahead 3-0 with 4:19 to play in the first quarter. It was the second of six sacks on the night for the Arkansas defense.
That was the cap to a K-State possession that included three penalties for 20 yards — including one that negated a 14-yard first-down run by Klein — before he fumbled on 2nd-and-33 at the Cats’ own 13-yard line.
And while K-State continued to struggle offensively, the Wildcats’ defense was doing its part, forcing the Razorbacks into two punts and a turnover-on-downs in their first four possessions.
K-State’s struggled were compounded, however, when the Wildcats again had to punt on a three-and-out from its own end zone to one of the country’s best return men in Joe Adams.
Adams, who led the nation with three returns for TDs, got himself another one, as he caught the punt on the left side of the field and then reversed his direction, following several key blocks on his way down the right sideline for a 51-yard score to put Arkansas up 10-0 with 14:27 to play in the first half.
“Well, it obviously made a major difference in the game,” Snyder said. “But you know, we knew he’s a talented player. We knew that he could make you miss him. We knew that we had to contain the football… and not let him bounce the ball outside.
“And sure enough, he bounced it outside, which just tells you that saying things, asking certain things to happen, doesn’t make it happen.”
The Razorbacks (11-2) made it 13-0 on another field goal — this time from 22 yards out — with 9:20 remaining in the second quarter.
And while Arkansas led 13-0, the Razorbacks had only 86 total yards from scrimmage. Meanwhile, K-State had just 19 yards on 21 offensive plays in the same time, to go along with 23 yards of penalties. The Wildcats finished with 260 total yards and were 4-of-15 on third-down conversions.
Just as it seemed Arkansas was going for a first-half knockout punch, the Wildcats finally found the boost it needed when senior defensive tackle Raphael Guidry blocked the extra point attempt following a 45-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Wilson to Jarius Wright to go ahead 19-0 with 4:10 left in the half.
Junior cornerback Nigel Malone scooped up the batted ball and returned it for a defensive conversion to get the Wildcats on the board at 19-2.
It was Guidry’s fifth blocked kick this season and Malone was the first player in Cotton Bowl history to score a defensive conversion on a blocked extra point.
“(Raphael) takes an immense amount of pride in being able to do that,” Snyder said. “I’m proud of his effort and certainly the rest of our defense responded as well.
“I think it had a little bit of an emotional boost for our football team.”
K-State wasn’t finished, as it capitalized on the swing of momentum when Adam Davis sacked Wilson on the Razorbacks’ next possession to force a fumble that was recovered by Ryan Mueller at the Hogs’ 13 with a little more than a minute to play in the half.
Three plays later, the Wildcats were in the end zone and back in the game when Klein connected with tight end Andre McDonald for a 3-yard touchdown pass to make it 19-9 with 26 seconds left.
“Coming back and getting the turnover that we did, offensively, Collin throwing the touchdown pass, really set the stage for us to have an opportunity to come back, and we did,” Snyder said.
The only thing to sour the Cats’ newfound surge was an injury to defensive end Meshak Williams on Arkansas’ final possession of the half. Williams was carted off the field after colliding with Emmanuel Lamur and taken to a local hospital and later released.
K-State stayed in its positive groove to open the third quarter when the Wildcats received the kickoff and used seven plays to cover 60 yards — capped by a 6-yard rushing touchdown by Klein to make it 19-16.
It was Klein’s 27th rushing touchdown this season, tying the Big 12 record held by Texas’ Ricky Williams for the most rushing scores in a single season. The junior also tied the NCAA single-season record for a quarterback, set by Navy’s Ricky Dobbs in 2009.
Klein finished 16-of-30 passing for 173 yards with one TD and one interception, while rushing 24 times for 42 yards and another score.
“I haven’t even thought about (the record),” Klein said. “It’s overshadowed by our ability as a group — we came up short tonight.”
Klein’s touchdown was about as good as it would get the rest of the night for the Wildcats, though, as K-State could never get over the hump and the Hogs pulled away.
Arkansas, which totaled 345 yards, created some separation when Wilson orchestrated a nine-play, 58-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard TD strike to Cobi Hamilton to make it 26-16 with 3:57 to play in the third quarter.
Wilson, who was named the offensive player of the game, finished 20-of-31 passing for 216 yards and two scores.
The Wildcats’ last shot of rallying came down to a long possession early in the fourth quarter that covered 54 yards on 13 plays and chewed more than six minutes off the clock. It was all for not, however, as Anthony Cantele missed a 43-yard field goal try once the drive stalled at the Arkansas 26.
Arkansas added its third field goal of the night — from 30 yards out — on the ensuing possession to put the game out of reach at 29-16 with 3:30 to play.
“The blame falls on all of our shoulders,” Klein said. “There wasn’t one play or one player here. Collectively, we couldn’t put it together.”