It took 30 years for Kansas State to beat Nebraska and almost that long to tear down the goal posts.
Listen, these folks are new at this.
After two storm-the-field charges were halted in order to complete three meaningless seconds of the most meaningful win in school history, Kansas State fans were at last unleashed to celebrate Saturday’s 40-30 victory over Nebraska before a crowd of 44,248 at KSU Stadium.
Kansas State last defeated Nebraska in 1968, but had not beaten the Cornhuskers at home since 1959. After several minutes of serious student-body hang time, the goal posts at last gave way.
“Thirty years of history, the past, swept away in one game,” Kansas State linebacker Jeff Kelly said afterward.
Was it easy?
Heavens no. The No. 2 Wildcats had to mount their first fourth-quarter rally since 1995, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on quarterback Michael Bishop’s 11-yard pass to a wide-open Darnell McDonald with 5:25 left, then benefited from a gift no-call from the officials that should have prolonged a last-chance Nebraska drive toward possible victory.
After 29 straight losses, maybe Kansas State deserved a break, huh?
With his team trailing by four points with less than three minutes left, and facing fourth and eight at his own 32, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch dropped back to pass and nearly had his face mask ripped off by blitzing linebacker Travis Ochs. One official reached for his flag, but then got cold fingers.
“I got face-masked,” Crouch said. “I thought it was a penalty.”
Uh, it was. Even Ochs stood there frozen as he awaited the call.
“I didn’t see a flag, so I went my own merry way,” Ochs said.
Kansas State took over on downs and ran down the clock before Nebraska regained possession at its 18 with 15 seconds left. Crouch’s first-down fumble was picked up by Kelly, who returned the ball for a touchdown.
Bill Snyder, the stoic Kansas State coach, could not have been more pleased with the victory that improved his team’s record to 10-0 and kept the Wildcats’ national-title hopes alive.
Snyder, in fact, almost cracked a smile.
“Well, I’m happy,” Snyder said. “I can assure you of that, contrary to popular belief and everything else you guys write.”
Snyder was not giddy enough to lift the media embargo on his quarterback, Bishop, who was not allowed to meet with reporters after a game in which he passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 140 yards in 25 carries with two scores, fumbled three times and had an interception.
Other than that, Bishop was no factor.
Snyder answered the postgame request for Bishop with a stern “no.”
Bishop won the game for the Wildcats, but he nearly lost it too.
“You turn the ball over three times, just give it away, you shouldn’t win the ballgame,” Kansas State guard Jeremy Martin said. “It’s lucky we got away with it. [Bishop] knew the mistakes he made, but he just got back on the horse and kept on going.”
While there was no dismissing the historical significance of Kansas State’s victory, the Wildcats did not win many style points and will not likely move ahead of No. 2 UCLA in Monday’s bowl championship series rankings.
No. 11 Nebraska entered the game wounded at 8-2, and nearly won with its third-string quarterback and tailback.
The Wildcats were hoping a good thrashing of the Cornhuskers would separate Kansas State from the national pack and win credibility from a national media that have been critical of the Wildcats’ schedule.
Nebraska made things interesting from the outset, driving 80 yards for a touchdown on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead, marking the first time Kansas State had been behind in a game this season.
With the freshman Crouch proving an able foil for the senior Bishop, Nebraska proved a formidable foe.
Yet, despite his many mistakes, Bishop refused to lose.
His key seven-yard scoring run with 49 seconds left in the half cut Nebraska’s lead to 17-14 and inspired a 10-point third-quarter blitz that put Kansas State ahead, 24-17.
Could Nebraska answer?
Kansas State appeared ready to put the Cornhuskers away late in the third quarter after Kelly intercepted a Crouch pass at the Nebraska 31.
But tailback Frank Murphy’s fumble on first down was picked up by Nebraska cornerback Ralph Brown, who returned the ball 74 yards for a touchdown to tie the score, 24-24.
After a 21-yard Martin Gramatica field goal put Kansas State ahead, 27-24, Nebraska drove 77 plays in six plays to take the lead, 30-27, on a seven-yard pass from Crouch to tight end Sheldon Jackson with 8:22 left. Kansas State had not trailed in the fourth quarter since rallying from a 17-14 deficit to beat Oklahoma State in 1995.
“I know if we would have lost this game, people would have called us flukes,” defensive end Joe Bob Clements said.
“Nebraska has pummeled us for years and years. Even in recent years they pummeled us. It’s nice to be part of the team that beat them.”