This week in history (1998): The 30 year drought comes to an end

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Willie the Wildcat performs the K-S-U skit during the fourth quarter of the KSU-Nebraska game Saturday, November 14, 1998, from the top of the Dev Nelson Press Box in Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. The Wildcats defeated the Cornhuskers 40-30, the first time in thirty years. The victory propelled K-State to be ranked No. 1 for the first time. A record-breaking 44,298 were in attendance. (Archive photo by Clif Palmberg | The Collegian)

In the 1990s, Kansas State had one of the most successful programs in college football. The team won 87 of 118 games played, ranking 12th for most wins by a college football program that decade. They also reached 11 bowl games in a row from 1993 to 2003.

Unfortunately, the team could never find their way to the top of the conference due to the dominance of the Nebraska Cornhuskers. From 1969 to 1997, the Cornhuskers won every head-to-head matchup over the Wildcats. By the time the 1990s rolled around, Nebraska was consistently the biggest obstacle for K-State.

In 1995 and 1997, K-State won double digit games, going 10-2 in 1995 and 11-1 in 1997. However, tough losses at Nebraska in both seasons destroyed their conference title aspirations.

With Colorado being another national power in the Big 12 Conference, many saw K-State as the third-best team in the conference behind the Cornhuskers and the Buffaloes.

Entering 1998, change arrived at Nebraska. After 25 legendary seasons in Lincoln, longtime head coach Tom Osborne decided to retire from coaching after winning his third national title in four seasons. The team also lost many star talents like quarterback Scott Frost, running back Ahman Green and defensive ends Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter who all went to the NFL following the season.

Despite the Cornhuskers starting the 1998 season winning their first five games, they lost their sixth game to Texas A&M and later lost to an unranked Texas team at home, their first loss in Lincoln since Sept. 1991.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats were rolling under head coach Bill Snyder, winning their first eight matchups. This included a victory over No. 14 ranked Colorado in early October — their first win in Boulder since 1973.

The Wildcats returned many key starters from their 11-win 1997 team with junior linebacker Mark Simoneau, junior defensive end Darren Howard, senior receiver Darnell McDonald, junior running back and punt returner David Allen and senior quarterback Michael Bishop. Bishop went on to become the first Heisman Trophy finalist in the history of the program in 1998.

Entering the Nebraska game on Nov. 14, 1998, K-State was ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time ever. 

Nebraska struck first, driving 80 yards on their opening possession which was capped off by an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Eric Crouch to Sheldon Jackson. 

K-State responded, scoring on a 8-yard run from Bishop. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Huskers scored ten unanswered points and took a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter.

Needing to respond, K-State scored a touchdown right before the half as Bishop ran in a two-yard touchdown to make the score 17-14.

In the third quarter, K-State took their first lead of the day as Bishop hit McDonald for an 18-yard touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 21-17 lead. Nebraska continued to play tough, turning five K-State forced turnovers into 17 points on the day.

The Wildcats later took the lead as Bishop hit McDonald for an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, putting K-State up 33-30 with just over five minutes left.

The Cornhuskers failed to respond to the K-State offense, and the Wildcats defense secured the victory when Jeff Kelly recovered a fumble and returned it 22 yards to complete a 40-30 victory for K-State. 

Following the game, fans rushed the field at KSU Stadium and tore down the goalpost which they famously carried through the streets of Aggieville following the matchup. The win clinched K-State the Big 12 North Title, though they did ultimately lose to Texas A&M, the South Division winners, three weeks later in the Big 12 Championship.

Bishop finished the day with 306 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air and two more on the ground. McDonald hauled in two touchdowns in the victory with 183 receiving yards.

The Wildcats would never come anywhere close to a National Championship following the 1998 season, despite winning the Big 12 in 2003 and 2012. The Cornhuskers moved to the Big Ten Conference in 2011 and have not played the Wildcats since the 2010 season.

For one moment in 1998, K-State made history against their longtime rivals in a memorable season, defeating one of the goliaths of the time.

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