Updated Friday, January 4, 2013 at 12:46 AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — De'Anthony Thomas caught the opening kickoff, raced past Oregon's sideline and leaned his head into the end zone like a sprinter crossing the finish line.
The track meet had started, and the fifth-ranked Ducks barely looked back after that.
Triggered by Thomas' 94-yard return, Oregon bolted by No. 7 Kansas State 35-17 Thursday night at the Fiesta Bowl in what may have been coach Chip Kelly's final game with the Ducks.
"I felt like my role in this game was to be a momentum-builder and a game-changer," Thomas said. "Once I saw that edge, I wanted to get to the end zone as fast as I could so I could celebrate with my teammates."
They did it a lot.
Teams that had that national-title aspirations end on the same day, Oregon and Kansas State ended up in the desert for a marquee matchup billed as a battle of styles: The fast-flying Ducks vs. the execution-is-everything Wildcats (11-2).
With Kelly reportedly talking to several NFL teams, Oregon (12-1) was too much for Kansas State and its Heisman Trophy finalist, Collin Klein, turning the game into a try-to-keep-up race from the start.
Thomas followed his kickoff return with a 23-yard touchdown catch, finishing with 195 total yards.
Kenjon Barner ran for 143 yards on 31 carries and scored on a 24-yard TD pass from Marcus Mariota in the second quarter. Mariota later scored on a 2-yard run in the third quarter, capped by an obscure one-point safety that went in the Ducks' favor.
Even Oregon's defense got into the act, intercepting Klein twice and holding him to 30 yards on 13 carries.
"We got beat by a better team tonight, combined by the fact that we let down from time to time," coach Bill Snyder said after Kansas State's fifth straight bowl loss.
Whether Kelly leaves Eugene or not, he had a good run, leading the Ducks to four straight trips to BCS bowls, the last two wins.
Ducks fans sure let him know how they felt, chanting "We want Chip!" just before he was handed the massive Fiesta Bowl trophy.
"Our focus was on this game tonight," Kelly said. "If for some reason, someone wanted to talk to me, it's because of those players over there. We have an unbelievable team, an unbelievable program, and any success is because of those guys."
Last year's Fiesta Bowl was an offensive fiesta, with Oklahoma State outlasting Stanford 41-38 in overtime.
The 2013 version was an upgrade: Nos. 4 and 5 in the BCS, two of the nation's best offenses, dynamic players and superbly successful coaches on both sides.
Klein hit John Hubert on a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, but all that did was cut Oregon's lead down to 32-17.
"It wasn't really complicated," Kelly said of slowing Klein. "He's a great player, one of the greats of college football. I had my heart in my throat a couple of times watching him ... but our guys just made plays when they had to make plays."
By doing so, they may have put a nice exclamation point on Kelly's college career.
DOUG PENSINGER / GETTY IMAGES
De'Anthony Thomas of Oregon returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Chip Kelly has numerous suitors in the NFL.