This Week In History (2003): The Wildcats play the spoiler against the Sooners

Senior tight end Thomas Hill holds up the Big 12 Championship trophy after K-State defeated the No. 1 ranked Oklahoma Sooners 35-7, Dec. 6. K-State rebounded from three straight losses early in the season to make an appearance at the championship game. (Archive photo by Kelly Glasscock | Collegian Media Group)

The 2003 edition of the Big 12 Conference championship was supposed to be a one-sided game. With No. 1 ranked Oklahoma entering the game at a perfect 12-0 for the season and favored by two touchdowns over a three-loss Kansas State team, the game was expected to be over quickly. 

Kansas State quarterback Ell Roberson did not allow that to happen. He had the game of his life against the Sooners and delivered K-State the most program-defining victory in school history.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, K-State saw more success than in the past. From 1993 to 2002, the Wildcats won nine or more games in every single season but one. This also included 11 wins in five of six seasons from 1997 to 2002. 

In 2003, more of the same was expected, but nobody thought the Wildcats would be near the top of the Big 12 come the end of the season.

The season was a roller coaster. The Wildcats won 10 games yet again but faced a myriad of challenges throughout the season similar to their Big 12 title in 2022. In September, the team was stunned at home, losing 27-20 to a Mid-American Conference school in Marshall.

They then lost back-to-back games to conference opponents in Texas and Oklahoma State to fall to 4-3 on the season and 0-2 in conference play.

Following a three-week lull, the Wildcats rebounded to win their final six games which included a 38-9 victory over the No. 18 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. It was the program’s first win in Lincoln since 1968 and guaranteed them the Big 12 North Division title for the third time.

Meanwhile in Norman, things couldn’t have been going any better for the Sooners. Head coach and former Kansas State defensive coordinator Bob Stoops entered Norman in 1999. He led the Sooners to a national championship in just his second season in 2000, defeating the Wildcats in the Big 12 championship along the way.

In 2003, the team was loaded with talent, led by quarterback Jason White, wide receiver Mark Clayton, running back Kejuan Jones, defensive tackle Tommie Harris and linebacker Teddy Lehman. The Sooners entered the 2003 Big 12 Championship undefeated and considered by many as one of the greatest teams in college football history. 

The Sooners outscored their opponents 601-214 in 2003, averaging six touchdowns per game and allowing just 15 points per game. The team’s closest victory came in just the second week of the season when they defeated Alabama, 20-13. They had also defeated ranked conference opponents in Texas and Oklahoma State by multiple scores.

To say the game was a David vs. Goliath matchup was a major understatement, and early on, it looked like K-State had little chance of winning. 

On their opening possession, the Sooners drove right down the field and scored first as Jones eluded multiple K-State defenders for a 42 yard touchdown and a 7-0 Oklahoma lead.

Things started to change in the second quarter. After a slow start, Roberson began to get things going.

Roberson started his historic evening by hitting tight end Brian Casey for a 19-yard touchdown to tie the score at seven, then connected with wide receiver James Terry for a long 63-yard touchdown giving the Wildcats a 14-7 lead.

Unbelievably No. 15 K-State was beating the Sooners, and kept the momentum through the rest of the game.

The Wildcats increased their lead thanks to running back Darren Sproles, who took a Roberson screen pass 60 yards to the house for a 21-7 halftime lead.

For Sproles, the 2003 Big 12 title game was arguably his crowning moment in an amazing four-year career at K-State. The junior running back had over 300 yards from scrimmage, which included 235 yards on the ground and 88 through the air.

Late in the third quarter, Roberson threw his fourth and final touchdown of the evening, connecting with wide receiver Antoine Polite from 10 yards to give the Wildcats a 28-7 lead entering the final 15 minutes of action.

But the Sooners were never down regardless of the lead. With their talent, it almost seemed like they were always in the game even if they couldn’t move the ball. 

However, with a little under five minutes gone in the fourth quarter, K-State sophomore linebacker Ted Sims — who had never intercepted a pass in his collegiate career at that point — made a memorable interception off White and returned it 27 yards for a game-sealing touchdown. The Wildcats won their first Big 12 championship, 35-7, over the best team in the nation.

For one night in December 2003, the K-State Wildcats played spoiler over the Sooners of Oklahoma.