To hear it from Bill Snyder, the consumate hear-and-now Wildcat coach, there's no sense in looking back to the 2000 season, particularly Dec. 2. That's the night when, in front of 79,655, No. 8 K-State played Oklahoma to the closest game of its National Champsionship season.
It was frigid that night, under the lights at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. The top-ranked Sooners, unbeaten, brought in Josh Heupel and a powerfeul offense. Likewise, a Jonathan Beasley-led K-State offense made odds-makers think the final score would be more at home in the pass-happy SEC than the Big 12 title game.
It wasn't so, though. Oklahoma's defense held Kansas State to just 239 yards, the lowest output of the season, and constricted Beasley's throwing game like an Anaconda. He completed just 12-of-28 passes for 106 yards, 57 of them to receiver Quincy Morgan. The bulldozer ground game led by Rock Cartwright and Josh Scobey ground out just 133 yards on 38 carries. Cartwright and Scobey combined for just 71 yards.
The Wildcat defense was equally stifling, too. Heupel was held to 24-of-44 for 220 yards, and Oklahoma's Quinten Griffin provided the only offensive punch on the ground -- to the tune of 87 yards.
To be sure, nobody expected Kansas State to have a chance. The Wildcats, 9-3 in the regular season, were led by a quarterback nobody thought could handle major college football, while Oklahoma brought in the undefeated No. 1 football team, complete with Heisman Trophy contendor and big-time expectations.
After Oklahoma kicked a 33-yard field goal midway through the first quarter, K-State struck back with a Beasley 10-yard run early in the second. A Jamie Rheem field goal seven minutes later extended the Wildcat lead to 10-3. But a Heupel touchdown pass from the 1 yard line evened the game going into the half. The third quarter remained neck-and-neck, with Heupel running in from 7 yards out to go ahead, only to see the Cats storm back once again when Aaron Lockett brought a punt back 58 yards with 3:29 to go in the third, making it 17 all heading to the final frame. The Sooners, however, proved too much. A 17-yard touchdown pass to Andre Woolfolk early in the quarter and a late field goal put the Sooners up 27-17, and a Morgan touchdown catch with just six seconds remaining closed the gap to 27-24. Oklahoma, however, was on its way to the Orange Bowl to play for a national title.
But don't ask Snyder to recount that game, particularly this week as the Wildcats prepare for a rematch under conditions that are eerily similar.
"I'm not sure where we stand right now in comparison to the year 2000," he said. "I really haven't thought about it. I see similarities, and yet at the same time, different strengths and weaknesses. It'd be hard for me to answer."
But while Snyder thinks only in terms of football — matchups on the corner, schemes and trickery — Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops thinks more in terms of tangibles. There are things he sees that are strikingly familiar, and he said he can only hope the outcome is likewise.
"A lot of similarities," he said. "The game is in Kansas City, Kansas State and us. We come in undefeated and still seeking a National Championship and both seeking a Big 12 Championship. We're the home team again, as we were that year. I believe we have the same locker room. A lof ot it is very similar."
The teams are similar, too. K-State led by a dual-threat quarterback (Roberson to Beasley) with a big-play receiver (James Terry to Morgan) and a running back capable of big plays (Darren Sproles to Scobey). The defense, again among the nation's best, is led by its linebacking corps with questions, if any, again coming from its secondary. The Sooners are led by a pro-style drop-back passer (Jason White to Heupel), a talented corps of running backs (Dejuan Jones and Renaldo Works to Griffin) with receivers who make things happen after the catch (Mark Clayton to Antwone Savage). The defense, again the nation's best, is led by a fierce linebacker, stalwart defensive line and a big play secondary.
Indeed, it's hard to discount the similarities — the ABC television, the lights, the circumstances with K-State's BCS bowl berth on the line and OU's unbeaten season hanging in the balance.
All that remains to be seen is the outcome.
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