TigerDetails - LSU's 42-20 Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State fittingly unusual, memorable
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LSU's 42-20 Texas Bowl loss to Kansas State fittingly unusual, memorable

Jontre Kirklin launched one last heave deep downfield and found Chris Hilton Jr. for LSU's longest pass of the season.

One more highlight for the epilogue to a rollercoaster 2021 provided by the few remaining Tigers left to close the book.

Kansas State dominated the Texas Bowl scoreboard Tuesday behind a four-touchdown performance by sophomore running back Deuce Vaughn.

But, even in a 42-20 defeat, a short-handed LSU roster and staff etched some achievements — final, first and everywhere in between — unlikely to fade from memory anytime soon.

"There's 10 seniors in our locker room who wanted to play," interim coach Brad Davis said, including Kirklin. "We were not going to cheat them of that opportunity. We won't back down from a challenge.

"That's not who LSU is. This isn't who we are. We're from South Louisiana. We fight until the end. We finish what we start."

Davis, a Baton Rouge native, became the first black coach to lead the program into a game, as he served in an interim capacity to bridge the tenures of Ed Orgeron and Brian Kelly.

The Belaire High alumnus and his transitional staff of largely analysts and graduate assistants to aid the coordinators entered the contest with 38 scholarship players — less than half the typical 85-man roster — with which to work following mass injuries, transfers and opt-outs.

Kirklin threw his first official passes since Lutcher's 2016 state championship his senior season of high school.

The fifth-year wide receiver completed seven of his 11 throws for 138 yards and a trio of scores to fellow Louisiana natives.

In the program's history, only national championship quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Joe Burrow threw more touchdown passes in a bowl game.

"He is the epitome of a selfless kid," Davis said. "He probably didn't have the career he expected coming out of high school, but he never complained or wavered or thought of transferring or quit. In fact, he was the opposite."

Jaray Jenkins, the junior from Jena, hauled in the first: a 23-yarder just before halftime to pull the Tigers to within 21-7.

And freshmen Malik Nabers, from Comeaux and Southside, and Hilton, from Zachary, added 15- and 81-yard scoring catches in the game's final minutes.

The latter was Hilton's second catch of the season and first career touchdown.

Kirklin also rushed 11 times for a team-high 61 yards — second in the game only to Vaughn's 146.

"Amazing," he said of his college career. "It was a journey. Getting recruited as a cornerback, playing cornerback for two yers, bouncing around at receiver, scout team QB, back to corner for a bowl game, back to QB tonight. I've played everything. I'm blessed and honored."

Kirklin's effort preserved an additional year of eligibility for freshman quarterback Garrett Nussmeier, who had already appeared in four games.

Freshman running back Corey Kiner rushed 14 times for 53 yards.

And several defensive players players stepped up in expanded roles.

Veteran defensive backs Todd Harris Jr. and Jay Ward led the Tigers with nine tackles each.

Second-year Nicholls State transfer cornerback Darren Evans and freshman linebacker Greg Penn III each had seven tackles, and sophomore defensive end B.J. Ojulari and first-year Nicholls State transfer Pig Cage added six each.

Cage finished with a game-high three tackles for loss, and Ojulari, sophomore defensive tackle Jacobian Guillory and freshman edge rusher Zavier Carter each added one.

"The future at LSU is extremely bright," Davis said. "The kids we have at LSU love LSU. Coach Kelly is going to take these kids to new heights. My message to the kids after the game was remember this feeling and let it drive you to be better."