No. 4 Texas A&M 36 KSU 33, 1998 Big 12 Championship in St. Louis
Another big game opportunity and another disappointment. That's what many Aggie fans were thinking at the 1998 Big 12 Championship Game in the fourth quarter with the No. 1 Kansas State Wildcats leading Texas A&M 27-12. In today's game, 15 points sounds manageable to overcome with a couple of big plays, but in 1998 in the R.C. Slocum era, overcoming a two touchdown deficit seemed like an impossible task…because until this day it was an impossible task.
At the same time, the jubilation on the Wildcat side of the stadium was just cranking up. Not only were the KSU fans feeling much better about winning this game, but UCLA lost earlier in the day meaning Bill Snyder and his collection of over-producing three-star recruits and top-flight JUCO standouts were less than a quarter away from playing in the national title game.
But for some unknown reason, the football gods decided to wake up Sirr Parker, Derrick Spiller, and former UT (Tenn) QB Branndon Stewart. Many felt Stewart beat out Peyton Manning for the starting Vol job as a freshman, but he later transferred to A&M in what became a roller coaster career. In fact, Stewart lost his job to Randy McCown earlier in the season but was forced into action after McCown broke his collarbone.
So you think I'm joking about the football gods? Well, through the first three quarters, Stewart completed just 4-of-11 passes with an interception. Sirr Parker was the heralded five-star recruit from Los Angeles whose career never took off. In fact, he had been replaced by Dante Hall as the team's workhorse tailback and power back Jamar Toombs. He was a relative non-factor in the first three quarters. Derrick Spiller played in the two tight-end packages while Dan Campbell received much of the attention at the position, and he wasn't a big factor on the offense.
All three were merely part-time veteran players whose careers were stuck in neutral. The three never made it big in the NFL, but A&M historians are still talking about that fourth quarter where the football gods sprinkled maroon fairy dust on these seniors and history was made.
Stewart suddenly found himself confident and making quick decisions in the pocket, completing 9-of 16 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Add in the game winning TD pass to Parker and that's a career high 32 passing yards and three TD passes…all after the third quarter.
For some reason, Kansas State's defense was not expecting Derrick Spiller to be a favored target over the middle of the field. But his four catches for 94 yards in the final frame were critical in building momentum and moving the ball quickly down the field in the closing minutes. It seemed the seas parted and Spiller was left to rumble down between the hash marks whenever Stewart needed a big pass play in that magical fourth quarter.
Despite Dante Hall rushing for a tough 113 yards on 27 carries, it was Parker who will be remembered as the hero of the great comeback. He caught the touchdown with just over a minute to bring the Aggies within two points, and then he caught the two-point conversion to send the game to overtime. Then there was the short slant pass where the KSU cornerback took a bad angle which allowed Parker to accelerate past his man and then outrun the safety to the pylon. Honestly, that was one of several plays that KSU choked away with the title game well within their grasp.
After A&M's second long drive of the quarter stalled at the KSU 25 yard line, the Wildcats forced the Aggies to use all of their timeouts and on a third down and six with 2:25 remaining, QB Michael Bishop ran a QB draw and actually made the first down but was popped by Warrick Holdman and the ball came loose…recovered by the Aggies. With two minutes to play with A&M at midfield after a 15 yard penalty, KSU surprisingly played aggressive man coverage which allowed Matt Bumgardner to beat his man by a step without safety help that led to a fairly easy 30+ yard reception. That set-up the tying TD and two-point conversion. But with only a minute to play, KSU moved down to their own 45 yard-line and Bishop's Hail Mary was actually caught on the 2 yard-line that almost resulted in a miracle finish.
In the first overtime, both teams kicked field goals. In the second overtime, the Aggie defense again held the rope and forced a field goal. The Aggie offense was going in the wrong direction and in dire straits on third down and 17. A&M was clearly playing to gain a few yards and get into makeable FG range with the short slant to Parker…but the rest is history.
This game was significant because it's considered one of the most exciting games in college football history and can be seen from time-to-time on ESPNClassic. But more importantly, the win gave Texas A&M its only Big 12 football championship title during the school's 16 year tenure in the conference. The win also propelled A&M into its only BCS bowl berth as they went on to play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl. Also, at the time, it marked the first time Texas A&M defeated the No. 1 team in the country in a major poll (coaches poll). Finally, the finish to this game gave A&M fans the single greatest Dave South radio call of all-time and it was two two simple word...."Oh Doctor!!!"
But, as with the case in this era, the few big wins under R.C. Slocum did not lead to greater success. For that reason, the game doesn't quite match-up with the three games higher on the list that we will release in the coming days.
But don't tell that to the A&M fans in St. Louis that day. Aggie fans were so starved for big game success, it was pure joy and bedlam both in the stands and in the streets outside the stadium after the game. The celebration lasted for hours and late into the night. It was a party.
A&M's Most Important Wins: No. 4
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