(This story is part of The Kansas City Star's Football 2015 special section that publishes Sunday, Aug. 30. Pick one up and check out more here.)
Catch that ends the skid
Beating North Texas in Manhattan would not be considered a notable achievement for Kansas State today, but when the Wildcats defeated the Mean Green 20-17 in 1989, fans poured onto the field and partied long into the night. Why? The result ended a 31-game winless streak that stretched back to 1986. It was Bill Snyder’s first season, and this was his first victory, a win that would go down as the moment K-State began its march away from football ineptitude to national relevance. It ended in thrilling fashion. With North Texas clinging to a 17-14 lead in the final minute, quarterback Carl Straw drove the Wildcats nearly the length of the field to give them a chance at victory on the final play. In the red zone with 4 seconds left, Straw dropped back into the pocket and launched a quick pass to his left. Frank Hernandez snagged it and ran through the end zone as time expired. Pandemonium ensued. Then radio play-by-play man Mitch Holthus described the play as “one of the best moments in this school’s history.”
Sproles to the house
Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 heading into the 2003 Big 12 championship game. The Sooners were so good that some argued they belonged in the conversation of best college football team ever. Indeed, they were impressive. They beat No. 11 Texas 65-13, they beat No. 14 Oklahoma State 52-9, they beat UCLA 59-24, they beat Texas A&M 77-0. No team, it appeared, could challenge them. K-State thought otherwise and backed its quiet confidence with a stellar performance against Oklahoma on a chilly night at Arrowhead Stadium. Everything went right for the Wildcats, and they shocked a national TV audience by winning 35-7. The game’s signature play belonged to running back Darren Sproles. Late in the second quarter, K-State led 14-7. The score was surprising, but the game was still up for grabs. At least it was until quarterback Ell Roberson tossed a screen pass over the middle to Sproles, who caught the ball and outran everyone to the end zone for a 60-yard touchdown that gave K-State a 21-7 advantage. The Wildcats went on to win their first Big 12 championship.
What face mask?
Nebraska owned Kansas State from 1968 through 1997, winning every year the two old conference rivals met. But destiny was on the Wildcats’ side in 1998. No way were they losing that game. That much was evident in the fourth quarter, when linebacker Travis Ochs blitzed his way to Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch and sacked him on a key fourth down with K-State up 34-30. What made the play stand out was the way Ochs made the tackle. He grabbed Crouch’s face mask and spun his helmet, but the obvious penalty was not called. K-State went on to win 40-30, clinching a 10-0 start and a spot in the Big 12 championship game.
Rock Shock Jayhawk
Believe it or not, there was once a time when Bill Snyder was winless against Kansas. And it seemed as though he would have to wait for that to change in 1991. The Wildcats played miserable football against the Jayhawks that year, turning it over six times and trailing 12-3 midway through the fourth quarter. But things changed when quarterback Paul Watson caught fire and completed 10 of his final 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. He led K-State on back-to-back scoring drives, with the game-winning touchdown pass coming in improbable fashion. With protection breaking down, Watson scrambled right and heaved a pass across his body on his way out of bounds, but it was on target to Andre Coleman, who grabbed it and celebrated a 34-yard touchdown.
Baylor appeared on its way to a narrow victory over K-State in 2011. The Bears led 35-33 late in the fourth quarter, and future Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III had the ball. He famously entered the game with more touchdowns than incomplete passes. He had not thrown an interception all season. He played like Superman. But linebacker Arthur Brown turned out to be his kryptonite. Brown picked off a pass across the middle of the field and set up K-State with a go-ahead field goal. He then sacked a scrambling Griffin III on the next series to help seal the victory. K-State had a clutch defense that season. Tre Walker made a game-saving tackle at the goal line one week earlier at Miami.