The mid-2000s was a transitional period for the Kansas State football team. Following an 11-win season and a Big 12 Championship in 2003, the program experienced back-to-back disappointing seasons in 2004 and 2005 since many previous key stars graduated or moved on to the NFL.
In 2005, K-State finished 5-6, missing a bowl game for the second straight season in what would be the final year of the first Bill Snyder era at K-State. In November 2005, Snyder announced his first retirement from the university, forcing K-State to find a new head football coach for the first time in almost two decades.
The Wildcats decided to pursue University of Virginia offensive coordinator and Kansas native Ron Prince to be their new head coach. Prince attended high school in Junction City before playing offensive tackle at Appalachian State.
On Dec. 3, 2005, the university announced the hiring of 36-year-old Prince as their new head football coach.
The team would also hire new coordinators — on offense with James Franklin, the current head football coach at Penn State University, and on defense with the addition of Raheem Morris, the current defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams.
The biggest addition to the 2006 season for the Wildcats was a quarterback from Kansas City named Josh Freeman. A standout at Grandview High School, Freeman initially committed to the University of Nebraska, but recommitted to K-State instead.
Freeman began the season as backup to the late Dylan Meier, as K-State won their first three games of the Prince era. Following a loss to Louisville and a slow start in an eventual loss to Baylor, Freeman replaced Meier as the starter and started the final eight games of the 2006 season.
Even though he threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2006 — 15 interceptions to 6 touchdown passes — Freeman set a K-State passing record for freshman quarterbacks, throwing for 1,780 yards.
In late October, Freeman led K-State to back-to-back victories over Iowa State and Colorado. Against Colorado, Freeman only threw four incompletions, throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-21 victory.
With a 6-4 record, K-State entered their next matchup against the fourth ranked team in the country, the Texas Longhorns. K-State hadn’t played Texas since their 2003 Big 12 Championship season, and the Wildcats hadn’t beaten them since the 1999 season.
The Longhorns, led by freshman quarterback Colt McCoy and sophomore running back and future NFL All-Pro Jamaal Charles, entered the game at 9-1 on the season. They looked well on their way to another Big 12 championship.
In the early stages of the game, Texas appeared close to victory, as they scored a touchdown on a one yard run by McCoy. However, McCoy was injured on the play, forcing the Longhorns to go to backup quarterback Jevan Snead.
K-State responded on their next possession as Freeman hit Yamon Figurs for a 36-yard touchdown, tying the game at seven.
After a Charles touchdown run reestablished the Longhorns lead early in the second quarter, Freeman threw another touchdown pass, completing a 33-yarder to James Johnson to tie the game at 14.
K-State then took a 21-14 lead going into halftime thanks to a Leon Patton eight-yard touchdown run.
In the third quarter, K-State exploded with 21 unanswered points following an opening drive touchdown from Texas. Freeman threw a 71-yard touchdown pass to Figurs, ran for another score and Patton threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cedric Wilson. With a 42-21 lead entering the fourth, the Wildcats looked like they were on their way to a stunning upset.
The defending national champions didn’t quit, scoring 21 points in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to three, but it wasn’t enough as K-State held on for the 45-42 upset victory.
Freeman finished with 269 yards passing and three touchdown passes in the victory while Figurs hauled in six receptions for 123 yards and two scores. The Wildcat defense bent but did not break, holding Charles under 100 yards rushing.
Freeman went on to become a first-round draft pick of the Buccaneers in 2009. While he had a mostly unremarkable NFL career, he is still one of the best statistical quarterbacks in K-State history and holds the single-game record for passing yards with 478.
With his many great statistical games as a Wildcat, Freeman holds a special spot in K-State history for his performance on one very special night in 2006.