For second straight year, Ohio State has great time at Fiesta

By BOB BAUM, AP Sports Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - Craig Krenzel never lost two games in a row as an Ohio State starter. In fact, he almost never lost -- period.

The Buckeyes' senior quarterback threw four touchdown passes -- matching his career best -- in No. 7 Ohio State's 35-28 victory over No. 8 Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.

He finished his college career 24-3 as a starter, and erased some of the lingering distaste from that loss at Michigan in the regular-season finale five weeks ago.

His performance Friday night earned him his second Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP award. His first came a year ago in Ohio State's double-overtime thriller over Miami for the national championship.

"This group of seniors, we've been fielding questions all week about how are we emotionally going to get up for the game when it doesn't really mean anything," Krenzel said. "We found that to be a slap in the face. We didn't want to be a senior class that contributed to a national championship and lost our last two games."

At the other side of Sun Devil Stadium, Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson dressed without talking to reporters. The accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman at the team hotel early Thursday had cast a cloud over the Wildcats' first appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game.

"You know this was a major distraction. I think we all realize that," wide receiver Antoine Polite said. "We all came together and decided we had to play as a team. We couldn't let it affect the way we played on the field. I don't know if that was the case today or not, but we went out and played hard, and gave it the best we had."

Roberson was awful early.

"I think his head wasn't in the game the first half," Ohio State defensive end Will Smith said. "I think they underestimated our speed on defense, but they made some good adjustments in the second half."

After a 3-for-13 start, Roberson finished having completed 20 of 51 passes for 294 yards and one interception. He ran for 32 yards.

"How did he play? Not very well," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "You saw in the second half he was a very competitive young man. Collectively, over the course of the ballgame, he probably didn't play too well."

Ohio State (11-2) led 35-14 entering the fourth quarter, but Kansas State scored twice. Maurice Mack's 37-yard kickoff return to the Ohio State 46 and Roberson's 19-yard pass to James Terry helped set up Ayo Saba's 3-yard run.

Roberson threw 24 yards to Davin Dennis to the Ohio State 15, and after a facemask penalty, Roberson sneaked over from the 1 to cut it to 35-28 with 2:47 left.

Kansas State (11-4) got the onside kick, but was called for a false start. Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter recovered the second onside kick and the Buckeyes held on.

The Wildcats had one more chance but Roberson's desperation pass from midfield was batted down at the 2.

Krenzel's four TD passes were his most in a non-overtime game.

He had four in a triple-overtime victory over North Carolina State on Sept. 12, but three came in overtime. He was 11-for-24 for 189 yards with two interceptions.

Maurice Jenkins had five catches -- two for touchdowns -- for 96 yards to pass David Boston as Ohio State's career reception leader.

Ohio State, with the top-ranked rushing defense in the country, held All-American Darren Sproles to a season-low 38 yards on 13 carries.

Kansas State rolled into Arizona on a seven-game winning streak, the latest a 35-7 pounding of then-No. 1 and unbeaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

But the Roberson case was an ugly turn of events for Snyder, whose team appeared in its 11th consecutive bowl game -- none bigger than this one.

A woman accused Roberson of sexual assault at the team hotel about 3:30 a.m. Thursday. Roberson acknowledged having sex, but said it was consensual. A police report was filed, and earlier Friday the university said its own investigation found no criminal wrongdoing.

Snyder allowed Roberson to start, but said the quarterback could face punishment for violating team rules. Whatever that penalty is -- after all, Roberson is a senior -- will remain a mystery.

"Anything that happens within the confines of our program, it has been our policy to keep it in-house," Snyder said. "Indeed, I will always do that."

The Buckeyes' first score came when Harlen Jacobs blocked Jared Brite's punt and John Hollins returned it 7 yards for a touchdown.

"Any time you can have a big play in the punting game, it's probably the difference," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "I suppose if you look at the game and really analyze it, it was a tie game other than that."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)