As the clock wound down in the fourth quarter at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, University of Oregon fans in attendance at the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl united in a chant: “We love Chip!”
Though rumors of head coach Chip Kelly’s impending move to the NFL dominated headlines and set the tone for the chants in the final moments of No. 4 Oregon’s 35-17 victory over No. 5 Kansas State Thursday night, the scene was a byproduct of the team’s performance, a wire-to-wire victory capping a dominant season.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota and linebacker Michael Clay earned offensive and defensive players of the game honors, respectively. Mariota, a freshman, completed 12 of 24 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, and gained 71 yards and a rushing touchdown on eight carries. Clay, a senior, recorded nine tackles, including two tackles for loss, and a sack.
“Right now, things are a lot more surreal than anything else,” said Clay, part of a class that played all four years under Kelly. “The last time playing with these guys, taking off the pads, the last time in an Oregon jersey – you’re kind of in a daze right now.”
Kansas State senior quarterback Collin Klein, a finalist for the Heisman Award, struggled to find a rhythm against Oregon’s defense, completing 17 of 32 passes for 151 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions – both to safety Erick Dargan. Klein also rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
“It’s hard,” said Klein of ending his collegiate career with a loss. “It’s not the way any of us wanted to go out.”
De’Anthony Thomas returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, and Dion Jordan scored on the Ducks’ patented “swinging gate” for a two-point conversion to pin Oregon to an 8-0 lead just twelve seconds into the game.
The highlights weren’t over for Thomas. On the Ducks’ second offensive drive, the sophomore running back caught a screen pass from Mariota, cut downfield, benefited from a block by center Hroniss Grasu, and shed an array of Kansas State would-be tacklers to power into the end zone, giving the Ducks a 15-0 lead.
After stalling on their first two offensive drives, the Wildcats mounted a 10-play, 58-yard drive, culminating in Klein’s six-yard touchdown run with 13:26 remaining in the second quarter. After the Ducks responded with a three-and-out possession, Klein directed a 13-play, 59-yard drive, which included three completions for 31 yards to former Duck and current Wildcat wide receiver Chris Harper. However, on third down and goal on the 3-yard line, Clay stuffed running back John Hubert for a loss of five yards, forcing the Wildcats to settle for a 25-yard field goal by kicker Anthony Cantele.
Kansas State regained possession after Oregon punter Jackson Rice was stopped short of a first-down on a fake punt, but Cantele missed a 40-yard attempt with one minute remaining in the half – plenty of time for Mariota to lead the Oregon offense on a fast-paced, 5-play, 77-yard drive, ending in a 24-yard touchdown pass to Kenjon Barner with 14 seconds left.
Barner, also a senior, carried the ball 31 times for 157 yards, bringing his career all-purpose yardage total to 5,848 – 21 yards short of former teammate and close friend LaMichael James’ school record.
The second half featured its fair share of weirdness, highlighted by the rare one-point safety on an extra point attempt after Oregon kicker Alejandro Maldonado’s kick was blocked, recovered by the Wildcats outside of the end zone, and pitched backwards to Harper, who was tackled in the end-zone. The point gave Oregon its biggest lead of the game, 32-10, having followed a 33-yard field goal by Maldonado and a 2-yard touchdown run by Mariota.
The Wildcats made one final push early in the fourth quarter, when Klein connected with Hubert for a 10-yard score to bring the tally to 32-17. The comeback was not to be, however, as the Ducks posted the game’s final score on a 24-yard kick from Maldonado, who made both of his attempts – a highlight for a kicker who has struggled this season, most infamously missing an overtime kick in the Ducks’ lone loss to Stanford.
“Really proud of Alejandro coming in there and banging that field goal,” said Kelly. “I thought it was a fitting way to finish this season.”
The Ducks wrap up their 2012-2013 campaign with a 12-1 record, and may finished ranked as high as No. 2 in the final BCS standings. Kelly, who has remained steadfast that his focus has been on the Fiesta Bowl and not a potential NFL future, opened up about his potential interest in the professional ranks, but still pointed to his players as the reason for his personal rise.
“I know that people want to talk to me because of our players. The success of our football program has always been about our guys. It’s an honor that someone would say they wanted to talk to me about maybe moving on to coach in the National Football League. But it’s because of what those guys do. So I’ll listen and we’ll see.”
|KANSAS ST||C. Klein||17/32||151||4.7||1||2|
|KANSAS ST||J. Hubert||17||55||3.2||0||13|
|KANSAS ST||C. Harper||8||71||8.9||0||21|
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