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November 12, 2011

Wildcats survive 4OT classic

If there is a certainty in life beyond death and taxes, it might be Collin Klein finding the end zone when the Kansas State Wildcats are inside the 3-yard-line. Klein gave the theory plenty of support on Saturday, rushing for five touchdowns, including the game-winner, in a 53-50 quadruple overtime victory over the Texas A&M Aggies.

On an afternoon that the Wildcat offense was far from perfect -- it committed three turnovers and averaged just 2.5 yards per rush attempt -- a battered Klein carried the Wildcats. The junior quarterback passed for 281 yards and a score, led the Wildcats in rushing with 103 yards, and drew praise from his coach and teammates alike after the game.

"He was pretty doggone good," Coach Bill Snyder said of Klein, who racked up 35 carries through four quarters and four overtime periods. "He's all that everyone says he is."

With the Wildcats (8-2, 5-2) trailing 50-47 in the fourth overtime, a pass interference call pushed K-State two the 2-yard line. At that point, there was little question on the offensive strategy. "We've run quite a few (quarterback sneaks)," Klein said, "so we're getting pretty good at them."

Klein's five rushing touchdowns tied a school record and pushed the quarterback to 24 rushing scores on the season, a single-season total higher than any Wildcat in history.

"There are no words to explain Collin," receiver Tramaine Thompson said. "He's the toughest guy on our team. He's our leader."

K-State trailed by 14 points early and as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter, but fought back in a method that, once again showing the team's resolve.

"When no one believed we had a chance, we did," Klein said. "That's something that Coach Snyder instills in us from day one."

"It's all about how we respond to thing," Snyder said. "I think, with the exception of kind of getting full of ourselves prior to the Oklahoma ballgame, we've responded quite well."

The contest marked the Wildcats' first appearance in overtime since the 1998 battle with Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship Game. Snyder noted no irony on revisiting the extra period in the Wildcats' final conference battle with the Aggies, but the coach joked that he did fear that back-and-forth, heart-stopping game might be his last. "I told the players," Snyder said, "that tonight really convinced me that they want me out of here."

"There were some big ups and downs," Klein said, "but we've been through some big ups and downs this year. I think it's helped give us a little bit of experience."

K-State and Texas A&M (5-5, 3-4) traded touchdowns in the first overtime and field goals in the second. Klein gave the Wildcats a quick edge in the third, rushing 25 yards down the left hash for a score on the first play of the period. After failing on the required two-point conversion attempt, the game rested in the hands of the K-State defense. Texas A&M scored when quarterback Ryan Tannehill found a leaping Uzoma Nwachukwu on fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line. "We knew we had one more play," cornerback Nigel Malone said. "We couldn't give up."

With the opportunity to win the game with a successful two-point conversion, Tannehill's pass was unsuccessful and the score stood tied at 47.

In overtime No. 4, the Wildcats forced the Aggies to kick a field goal when cornerback David Garrett stopped receiver Ryan Swope a yard short of a first down on third-and-four. The Wildcats advanced to the Aggie 15 before benefiting from the pass interference call.

To advance to overtime, the Wildcats fought back from a 14-0 deficit early, gaining momentum when Malone intercepted a Tannehill pass and returned it 23 yards to help set up the team's first score.

"The crowd had gotten us back into the game at that point," Malone said. "College football is all about momentum and I think that's something that carried us to tie the score going into the half."

Malone's interception, his seventh of the season, tied C.J. Masters 1992 mark for the second-highest season total in school history.

The Wildcats tied the game at 14 with 40 seconds remaining in the first half when Klein scored from three yards out.

In the second half, the Wildcats chased the Aggies to 21, but looked like they might be facing an insurmountable edge when a Randy Bullock field goal gave the Aggies a 31-21 lead with just 6:38 remaining in the game. Alas, the Wildcats found a way. On the ensuing possession, after a pair of incompletions, Klein found freshman Curry Sexton for a 27-yard gain. The next play, Klein connected with Chris Harper, who piled up 134 receiving yards, for a 53-yard touchdown.

The Wildcat defense responded by forcing an Aggie three-and-out, setting the stage for Anthony Cantele's game-tying field goal with 2:12 left in the game.

While the Wildcats were happy with the victory, the continued need for improvement was not lost. Though the Aggies entered the game having forced just seven turnovers on the season, the Wildcats committed three turnovers, each of which resulted in a Texas A&M touchdown.

"We just haven't learned all the lessons that we need to learn," Snyder said. "Go back a week ago, we gave the ball up on the five-yard-line and we gave the ball up on the four-yard-line, that's 14 points. That cost us the ballgame. We turned around and did the same thing again this game."

"We're still growing," Klein said. "It's the same message after this big win as it was after any other one. It's about getting better, never getting too high or too low. It's never as good as it seems or as bad as it seems. We've just got to keep making progress."



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