This article on the 2004 Fiesta Bowl appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in January 2004.

KSU digs too big a hole to win


TEMPE — Friday’s Fiesta Bowl started out with plenty of Kansas State mistakes. Dropped passes. Bad snaps. Dumb penalties.

But in the second half the Wildcats had turned a potential rout into a competitive contest in their 35-28 defeat to Ohio State at Sun Devil Stadium.

“We were just inconsistent” was what longtime KSU coach Bill Snyder said when it was over.

After senior quarterback Ell Roberson had brought the Wildcats to within a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge with 2:47 to go, KSU tried an onsides kick and recovered the ball.

But there was a flag. KSU was penalized for being offside, and it kicked again. The second onsides kick, though, was recovered by KSU.

In essence, that play summed up the game. In other words, even when the ball bounced Kansas State’s way, it didn’t.

After forcing the Buckeyes (11-2) to punt on the next possession, the Wildcats, who trailed 35-28, had one last shot at the end zone, taking over at their own 10 with 1:12 left. They quickly moved the ball to the Ohio State 7, and had one last shot at the end zone as time expired.

Roberson’s Hail Mary pass was batted down, sending the Wildcats (11-4) to a season-ending defeat in dramatic finish. They entered the game with seven consecutive wins, including a shocking 35-7 triumph over seemingly invincible Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship on Dec. 6.

The Fiesta Bowl was somewhat overshadowed by the news that Roberson was accused of sexual assaulting a woman at a Scottsdale hotel New Year’s Day.

Roberson was unavailable for comment after the game.

Snyder made the decision Friday to start Snyder.

“Well, a great deal of work investigation by our administration gave me information that led me to believe that Ell Roberson was not guilty of what he was charged of,” Snyder said. “He hasn’t been charged what he was seemingly implicated in.”

Of course, one can wonder how much of a distraction the Roberson situation had on the Wildcats.

Senior center Nick Lechey said, “I think we handled it as best as we could.”

“I don’t think it had any effect (on our performance),” added defensive end Thomas Houchin.

The Wildcats’ three premier playmakers on offense — Roberson, tailback Darren Sproles and receiver James Terry — combined for more than 6,000 yards entering the game. The trio was a non-factor in the first half, accumulating just 114 yards of total offense.

To make matters worse, Roberson had a horrendous first half, completing 5 of 15 passes for 60 yards. Many of his passes were off the mark, as was the timing between he and the Wildcat receivers.

“I think his head wasn’t in the game in the first half,” Smith said.

During a halftime radio interview, Snyder said, “He (Roberson) needs to settle down, and some other things need to happen.”

Roberson made things happen in the second half, running the option methodically, firing passes downfield and guiding his team in catch-up mode.

Collectively, the Buckeyes said they were not surprised KSU rallied from deficits of 21-0 and 35-14.

“We knew they were a good team and they were going to come back,” Buckeyes defensive end Will Smith said.

“We knew we were in for a fight for 60 minutes,” OSU defensive tackle Tim Anderson added.

After it was over and the final statistics were tabulated – including KSU’s 4-for-17 effort on third downs and Roberson’s abysmal 20-for-51 effort passing, it didn’t take a whole lot of contemplation to figure out why OSU won the game.

“We just didn’t get it done,” Lechey concluded.

It was that kind of night for the Wildcats. Too little, too late.