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TEMPE, Ariz. – Budda Baker provided a rare highlight in the Huskies’ humbling first half late Friday at the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

Baker, the Huskies’ freshman free safety, had a sensational, one-handed interception in the first quarter against Oklahoma State, and returned it 43 yards to near midfield.

It was the first interception of his young Washington career.

Baker, a Bellevue High standout, emerged as one of Washington’s most dependable players this season, earning freshman All-America honors from several publications. He was third on the team with 76 tackles during the regular season and played more snaps — 1,019 — than anyone on the UW defense.

The Huskies forced two first-quarter turnovers, with Hau’oli Kikaha credited with a sack and a forced fumble by Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. The UW offense, however, was not able to convert those into points and trailed 24-0 at halftime.

Shaq is mum

UW junior linebacker Shaq Thompson was again noncommittal about his future after the game. He plans to return to Seattle and meet with UW coach Chris Petersen soon.

A projected first-round pick, Thompson is expected to enter the NFL draft. The deadline for underclassmen is Jan. 15.

Meanwhile, junior linebacker Travis Feeney has requested an evaluation from NFL scouts, but he said he plans to return for his senior season.

Ross on the run

John Ross III did it again.

The sophomore speedster returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter Friday night, the longest return in the 26-year history of the Cactus Bowl (and its previous incarnations).

It was Ross’ third kick-return touchdown of his career. He had a 100-yard return in UW’s Fight Hunger Bowl victory over BYU a year ago, and he had another 100-yard return against UCLA this season.

Castleman shines

Often times it’s hard to trust a 300-pound defensive tackle with the ball, but the Cowboys had plenty of faith in big man James Castleman, who was as effective a part of their offensive success as quarterback Mason Rudolph (299 passing yards) and Cactus Bowl offensive MVP Desmond Roland (127 rushing yards).

Castleman took a direct snap from the 1-yard line and plunged into the end zone for Oklahoma State’s first touchdown, and he was used in jumbo packages to block for Roland.

“All year I’ve been joking around, ‘Coach, throw me in there, put me at tight end,’ stuff like that,” Castleman said. “Sure enough, he let me do it.”

But Castleman wasn’t done. On a critical third-and-two with less than three minutes to play and the Cowboys up 30-22, Rudolph threw to Castleman on the Huskies’ side of the field. Castleman rumbled 48 yards to the Washington 17.

The Cowboys missed a field-goal try moments later, but the play allowed them to maintain possession and run off some clock.

“I’m running. Honestly, I’m like ‘Why hasn’t somebody hit me yet?’ Next thing, I look up to the screen, I see someone coming and I try jabbing inside trying to get him to miss. Once he hit me, the check-engine light came on.”

Jose Miguel Romero contributed to this article.