MANHATTAN, Kan. – Through a sea of joyous, purple-clad fans, Collin Klein and his Kansas State teammates snaked toward a temporary stage set up in the shadow of the east goalposts in Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
There awaited a trophy. And a message from coach Bill Snyder.
"I don't know exactly where we're going," he intoned into the microphone. "I've got an idea. It's warmer out there."
That would be in the Fiesta Bowl in the desert air of Arizona – part of K-State's reward for defeating Texas 42-24 Saturday night, nailing down a share of its second Big 12 championship and only the third conference title in the 115 years that the Wildcats have fielded a football team.
It's not quite the the history they hoped to make. A little more than two weeks earlier, they were undefeated and sitting atop the Bowl Championship Series standings, positioned to play for the national title. A Nov. 17 loss at Baylor quashed that.
But it's history nonethless. The win on an unseasonably warm December night improved Kansas State to 11-1 overall, tying the school's record for a single season. The 'Cats have a shot at breaking it in the Fiesta, where they'll most likely draw Oregon and its otherworldly offense.
They've cracked the BCS lineup for the first time since 2003, when K-State captured its only previous Big 12 title by upsettting No. 1-ranked Oklahma in the Big 12 title game in Kansas City.
Its lone league championship before that: in the old Big Six in 1934, when eventual Hall of Famer Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf spent his only season as its coach.
The Wildcats' celebration after the Big 12 trophy presentation – they finished in a tie for first with OU, both at 8-1 in the league – spilled off the field and into a raucous locker room. "It was crazy," said senior defensive end Meshak Williams. "Everyboy was excited; even Coach Snyder was excited. I saw a smile on his face. You don't see that much.
"I loved every minute of it, and I'm going to cherish every minute of it."
Said the 73-year-old Snyder, "It means an awful lot to all of us."
Quarterback Collin Klein made his closing statement to Heisman Trophy voters, throwing for 184 yards, rushing for 103 and accounting for three touchdowns in his final home game. He also took the game over in the second half, when K-State erased a 17-14 deficit against Texas with four unanswered touchdowns.
John Hubert rushed for three touchdowns, and the Wildcats made Texas pay dearly for a succession of mistakes.
Two interceptions of the Longhorns' Case McCoy, one early and one late, were converted into touchdowns. So was a fourth-quarter muffed punt.
"We were matched with them in the third quarter, and we had to keep matching them," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "And we did not do that."
K-State had two weeks to stew over the stunning, 52-24 loss to Baylor, in which Klein threw three interceptions, doubling his season total, and the Wildcats' defense was gouged for 580 yards and seven TDs. "We had a lot of guys who were angry," junior safety Jarard Milo said.
But it wasn't evident in a listless first half against Texas. K-State did little outside of a Nigel Malone interception that set up a one-yard scoring plunge by Klein for an early 7-0 lead. The Wildcats' offense was shut out. McCoy and the Longhorns more than doubled their total yardage (235-114).
Wth McCoy's 14-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley, the 'Horns (8-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big 12) took a 10-7 lead into halftime. And with a 90-yard drive midway through the first quarter, ending with a two-yard run by Malcolm Brown, they went up 17-14.
Klein was beginning to flex, however.
The 6-5, 226-pound senior, the Heisman frontrunner until the Baylor slip, called his own number on 15 of his team's first 19 plays in the second half. He orchestrated one drive of 75 yards, ending with a two-yard scoring run by Hubert that moved the Wildcats briefly ahead. Texas answered with that 90-yard march, but Klein and the 'Cats then marched 67 yards, the final two on a pitchout to Hubert and two-yard TD run to make it 21-17.
Klein, himself, delivered the dagger on the first play of the fourth quarter, executing a perfect play-action pass to a wide-open Tyler Lockett. It covered 55 yards for a touchdown that made it 28-17.
"It was a great call," Klein said. "… We got a lot of good action out of Braden (Wilson) and John (Hubert) with the fake. Tyler did a good job; he got open. And I did not want to miss him."
"The perfect throw," Texas' Brown called it.
The Longhorns wilted. Nick Jordan was wide right with a 40-yard field goal attempt. Returner D.J. Monroe lost the handle on a punt. McCoy threw his second interception of the night.
Kansas State responded with a one-yard TD run by Hubert and a nine-yard scoring run by Klein, moving to a 42-17 lead. A crowd of 50,912 ratcheted up the festivity.
McCoy, starting his first game of the season for the Longhorns after starting quarterback David Ash suffered a rib injury in a loss to TCU a week earlier, completed 17 consecutive passes at one point in the first half, and finished 26-for-34 for 314 yards and two TDs. But he was well aware of what he gave back with the interceptions.
"We turned it over three times, and gave up 21 points off of them," he said. "We have been preaching about it. It cannot happen."
Klein was impeccable in the second half, throwing just four times but completing each attempt for 112 yards and the long TD to Lockett. He ran for 84 yards in the final two periods.
Was it enough to move the needle in a Heisman race that now seems to favor Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel? The trophy will be presented in New York next Saturday.
"I don't know about everybody else," Snyder said. "(But) I don't know anybody who means more to this football team than Collin Klein."
Klein improved his record as a starter at Kansas State to 22-5, moving into a tie with Michael Bishop and Ell Roberson as the winningest quarterbacks in the Snyder era. Bishop won 22 in 1997-98. Roberson won his 22 from 2001-03.
Roberson also got the Wildcats to the Fiesta Bowl, where they lost 35-25 to Ohio State.
Klein's shot is coming.