ARLINGTON, Texas — Collin Klein wouldn't give up. Even with Kansas State trailing Arkansas by 13 points in the final seconds of the Cotton Bowl, he scrambled out of the pocket and desperately tried to make a big play on Friday night at Cowboys Stadium.
After winning eight games by a single score in the regular season, he tried everything to increase that total and finish off a memorable year with an unforgettable ending.
But it wasn't to be. As he spotted a receiver in free space, Klein heaved the ball downfield and had to watch Jerico Nelson intercept the pass to secure a 29-16 victory for the No. 7 Razorbacks.
It wasn't the type of ending No. 11 K-State has been accustomed to lately, but it was the ending it had to settle for in its return to one of college football's biggest stages.
"This is very disappointing," said Klein, held to 42 rushing yards (1.8 per attempt).
With 80,956 fans surrounding them, and a national television audience looking on, the Wildcats refused to give in against a favored Arkansas opponent that jumped out to a three-score lead and made the game a toss-up in the second half. In some ways, it was the type of performance they are best known for.
But unlike so many of the dramatic games they won to get here, this comeback wasn't pulled off. Arkansas, behind the steady arm of Tyler Wilson and a physical defense that held K-State to 87 rushing yards, held on.
The Razorbacks (11-2) will wait to see if they climb into the top five of the final polls. K-State (10-3) will try move past the disappointment of missing out on joining the six other teams in program history to win 11 games, and try to build off the momentum gained this year in the offseason.
The Wildcats had their chances to end their season with a win, but were too ineffective early on and late.
"We got off to an awfully bad start and we couldn't overcome the damage that we did," K-State coach Bill Snyder said.".. That dramatically hurt us. We just weren't ready to play. That is my responsibility."
K-State came out slowly on offense, unable to capitalize on open receivers and unable to effectively run the ball against the Razorbacks' physical defense, and didn't score its first points until late in the second quarter.
Some of that could be attributed to rust. When the game started, both teams looked as if they hadn't played in a month. Arkansas was overconfident on its opening two drives, and couldn't do anything with quality field position. K-State looked downright sloppy.
One series summed up the first quarter for K-State. After running three straight times to squeak out a first down, the Wildcats were flagged for an illegal shift, Klein was sacked, then K-State committed a holding penalty, which was followed by a false start and Klein finished off the forgettable string of plays by losing a fumble deep in his own territory.
Arkansas took over but managed only a field goal before opening up the second quarter with a 51-yard punt return touchdown from Joe Adams, the nation's statistical leader. Despite its defense holding Arkansas to no first downs at that point, the Razorbacks led 10-0.
"I thought we did a great job defensively," Snyder said."... I was awfully proud of them."
That created a deep hole for K-State, and it only got deeper in the next few minutes when it continued to punt the ball after three unproductive plays. Arkansas pulled ahead 19-0 on a 22-yard field goal and then a 45-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jarius Wright with 4:10 remaining before halftime.
Those tuning into the national Fox broadcast and watching K-State play for the first time likely assumed Arkansas was on its way to a rout.
But the Wildcats didn't panic. They had been there before.
As Arkansas lined up to kick the extra point, Raphael Guidry broke through to make his fifth block of the season, which led to Nigel Malone picking up the loose ball and returning in 98 yards to make the score 19-2 with the first defensive point-after try in Cotton Bowl history.
The large contingent of K-State fans could cheer for the first time, and they really got into it when Adam Davis forced Wilson, who threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns, to fumble 13 yards in front of the Arkansas end zone.
When the Wildcats took over, Klein rumbled toward the goal line and then connected with tight end Andre McDonald for a touchdown on a misdirection play to pull within 19-9 with 25 seconds remaining before halftime.
K-State started the second half with the ball, and marched 60 yards in seven plays to score on a six-yard keeper from Klein. The rushing touchdown was Klein's 27th of the season, which tied him with Texas' Ricky Williams for the NCAA single-season record.
Take away two quick scores by Arkansas, and K-State had outplayed the Razorbacks. It looked like they were poised to make a push at winning their ninth close game of the season.
But Arkansas proved to be too strong. After exchanging punts with K-State on the next two series, it went on a 58-yard drive, which was capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Cobi Hamilton that made the score 26-16 with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter.
The Wildcats couldn't pull within one score from there. Every time it seemed like it had something going on offense with completions to Sheldon Smith or Tramaine Thompson, their offensive line couldn't keep Arkansas defenders away from Klein. He was sacked six times, and was never able to break free for long gains on scrambles the way he did during the regular season.
He seemed out of his comfort zone, but so did the whole team. And it showed.
"The blame falls on all of our shoulders," Klein said. "There wasn't one play or one player here. We couldn't put it together collectively."