De’Anthony Thomas caught the opening kickoff, raced past Oregon’s sideline and leaned his head into the end zone like a sprinter crossing the finish line.
The track meet had started and the fifth-ranked Ducks barely looked back after that.
Triggered by Thomas’ 94-yard return, Oregon bolted by No. 7 Kansas State, 35-17, Thursday night at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., in what may have been coach Chip Kelly’s final game with the Ducks.
“I felt like my role in this game was to be a momentum-builder and a game-changer,” Thomas said. “Once I saw that edge, I wanted to get to the end zone as fast as I could so I could celebrate with my teammates.”
They did it a lot.
Teams that had that national title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the execution-is-everything Wildcats.
With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, turning the game into a try-to-keep up race from the start.
Thomas followed his before-everyone-sat-down kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.
Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure 1-point safety that went in the Ducks’ favor.
Even Oregon’s defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.
“We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time,” coach Bill Snyder said after the fifth straight bowl loss for Kansas State (11-2).
Whether or not Kelly leaves Eugene, he has had a good run – the Ducks have made four straight trips to BCS bowls, the last two wins.
“If for some reason, someone wanted to talk to me, it’s because of those players over there,” Kelly said after the game.
EX-COUG TO FRESNO?
The Fresno State Bulldogs have expressed interest in former Washington State standout wide receiver Marquess Wilson, according to Darren Bennett, Wilson’s coach at Tulare (Calif.) Union High School.
“They want him,” Bennett said Thursday.
Wilson often worked out at Tulare Union, where he starred in football, basketball and track, when back home. Bennett said he has not seen Wilson at the high school during the holiday break from classes.
Wilson has kept a low profile and declined interview requests since leaving the Cougars with three games to go in the season. He accused WSU football coaches of mental and physical abuse but quickly recanted.
A school investigation cleared coaches of wrongdoing. Results of a Pacific-12 Conference probe requested by WSU officials have not been released.
Wilson became WSU’s all-time leading receiver in his third and final season with the Cougars.
Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell said he will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Bell ran for 1,793 yards this season – on 382 carries – and also caught 32 passes. … South Carolina QB Connor Shaw will have surgery on his left foot today. … Former Illinois coach Ron Turner signed a five-year contract to take over at Florida International.Howie Stalwick, contributing writer