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Published: Saturday, 1/3/2004

Real winners at Fiesta are Ohio State, Krenzel

TEMPE, Ariz. - It was billed as a bridge over troubled BCS waters.

But last night s Fiesta Bowl between No. 7 Ohio State and eighth-ranked Kansas State more than held its own against the Rose Bowl and upcoming Sugar Bowl.

It turned out to be all that any serious college football fan could want - and then some.

Ohio State 35, Kansas State 28.

It may have been the best bowl game played this year because there was something for everybody.

There was drama.

Would Kansas State coach Bill Snyder bench senior Ell Roberson a day after his star quarterback was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in the team hotel?

Snyder made the politically incorrect decision to play Roberson the entire game. Boo.

There was suspense.

Could the defending national champion Buckeyes move the football against Kansas State s nationally-ranked defense - and vice versa?

Yes, and yes.

There was excitement.

The Buckeyes and Kansas State produced a game that was great to watch on television, but a must-see in person. Emotionally charged fans wearing red on one side and purple on the other side rocked Sun Devil Stadium as the teams exchanged momentum swings and big plays for 60 minutes.

OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel shook off two early interceptions and tossed a school-record four touchdown passes in his final college game (two apiece to Michael Jenkins and Santonio Holmes).

“It was definitely my intention to go out in the last game of the year and play my best game,” said Krenzel, who was named Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP for the second year in a row.

With the Buckeyes keying on shutting down running back Darren Sproles, who was held to 38 yards, it fell upon Roberson to keep Kansas State within striking distance, which he did.

Roberson attempted 52 passes - a Fiesta Bowl record. He threw for 294 yards and ran for two scores.

OSU led 14-0 before the Wildcats recorded their first first down. The Buckeyes made it 21-0 and suddenly were on the verge of creating a ratings nightmare for ABC executives fearful of losing their national audience.

Not to worry.

Kansas State rallied, remarkably, to within seven points, 35-28, and had a chance to tie or win in the final minute, thanks to Roberson, who was cheered by Kansas State fans and booed by Buckeyes fans the first time he took the field.

Those boos could have been aimed at Snyder, who didn t punish Roberson - at least not publicly - for a blatant violation of team curfew rules.

Snyder refused to sit Roberson for even one series in what would have been a bold yet definitive statement that rules must be followed - even by the best player on the team.

“I m disappointed that we were in the situation we were in. Disappointed that anything took place that took away from our preparation for this game,” Snyder said.

If Roberson is charged with a crime, Roberson, Snyder and Kansas State will be the losers in what could be interpreted as an attempt to win at all costs.

As for the real winners last night, the game belonged to Krenzel, who threw four touchdown passes for the second time and added to his OSU legacy in a classy way.

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