A week from today, the Kansas State Wildcats will play in their 21st bowl game, versus the UCLA Bruins in the Cactus Bowl. With that in mind, we at Bring on the Cats decided to take a look at all 20 of K-State’s previous bowl games.
1982 Independence Bowl
It took a long time for K-State to make its first bowl game, and I mean a looooong time. It was 80 years after the first Rose Bowl, and approximately 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang before Jim Dickey’s Wildcats went 6-4-1 to earn a place in the 1982 Independence Bowl against the 6-5 Wisconsin Badgers.
The Wildcats entered the game after taking fourth place in the Big Eight with a 3-3-1 conference record, while the Badgers placed fifth in the Big Ten at 5-4. It took a figurative Hail Mary for K-State to make its first-ever bowl game, as Dickey redshirted 18 players, including eight seniors, in 1981 when the team was on probation to give them the best chance possible in 1982.
Their reward for that perseverance was a Dec. 11 trip to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the average low temperature in December is a manageable 38 degrees. But the conditions that night were absolutely miserable — cold, wet, and windy, with wind chills reportedly 10 below zero. And that weather played a role in the final score of 14-3, Badgers. K-State QB Darrell Dickey completed 13 of 35 passes for 127 yards and an interception. The Wildcats’ only points came on a 29-yard field goal by Steve Willis.
That this game represented a high-water mark for K-State football for almost its first century of competition is a testament to how bad so many of those teams were. Jim Dickey was forced out a bit over two years later after going 6-17-1 over the next 24 games. He was replaced by Lee Moon, then Stan Parrish, who never even sniffed a bowl game at K-State.
1993 Copper Bowl
Bill Snyder arrived as head coach and quickly changed the Wildcats’ fortunes, improving from 1-10 in 1989 to 5-6, 7-4, and 5-6. In 1993, K-State went 8-2-1 in the regular season, earning a third-place finish in the Big Eight and the team’s second-ever bowl bid.
The Wildcats headed to Tucson, Arizona, to play the 8-3 Wyoming Cowboys in the Copper Bowl. It was the first of four bids to that bowl, all under different names (Insight.com Bowl in 2001, Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2013, and Cactus Bowl this year).
The Wildcats were led by several familiar names on the roster: QB Chad May, WR Andre Coleman, and WR Kevin Lockett.
Wyoming struck first with a field goal in the first quarter, but that 3-0 lead was the Cowboys’ only lead of the game. J.J. Smith put K-State ahead for good with a 2-yard TD run, and Tate Wright added a 22-yard field goal in the first. May pushed the lead to 13 with a touchdown run. Coleman book-ended halftime with a pair of long touchdowns: a 68-yard punt return before halftime and a 61-yard reception less than a minute into the third quarter. A Lockett TD catch, 13-yard run by Leon Edwards, and 37-yard interception return by Kenny McEntyre rounded out the scoring in the second half as K-State won in dominating fashion, 52-17.
The Copper Bowl marked the first of 11 consecutive K-State seasons to end with a bowl game. On a personal note, I remember how much my dad, who grew up in Manhattan, loved his Copper Bowl sweatshirt.
1994 Aloha Bowl
After a second-consecutive strong season, with the only losses coming in consecutive weeks to No. 2 Nebraska and No. 2 Colorado, the 9-2 Wildcats said aloha to Honolulu and the 8-3 Boston College Eagles on Christmas Day, 1994.
It was a miserable offensive day for K-State. The Wildcats rushed for 30 yards and threw for 94 more, while May was sacked eight times, including four by Mike Mamula. K-State’s only score came when Joe Gordon blocked a Boston College punt and Chris Sublette recovered the ball on one hop in the end zone. K-State lost 12-7.
1995 Holiday Bowl
The 1995 Wildcats put together their third consecutive nine-win season, once again only losing to Nebraska and Colorado in the regular season, winning three consecutive shutouts (67-0 against Akron, 44-0 against Northern Illinois, and 32-0 against Missouri).
That 9-2 regular season got K-State a bid to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego against the 8-3 Colorado State Rams. The Wildcats made the most of their California trip, winning 54-21 as reserve QB Brian Kavanagh completed 18-of-24 passes for 242 yards and four TDs after starter Matt Miller was injured. Sophomore halfback Eric Hickson ran for 103 yards, and senior receiver Mitch Running had six catches for 126 yards.
In the first half, the Wildcat offense ignited with a stretch of three touchdowns in nine plays to take a 26-7 halftime lead, and K-State held the ball for more than 20 minutes after halftime, preventing the Rams from ever gaining momentum. The victory moved K-State to No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll, K-State’s first-ever finish in the top 10.
1997 Cotton Bowl
Another 9-2 regular season in 1996, again losing to top 10 Nebraska and Colorado teams, led K-State to its first-ever New Year’s Day bowl game, against the 13-1 BYU Cougars (BYU got an extra game for playing at Hawaii and played in the WAC Championship game, explaining the unusually high number of games) in the 1997 Cotton Bowl Classic.
Kavanagh completed a pair of long touchdowns to Andre Anderson and Kevin Lockett to give K-State a 15-5 lead at the end of the third quarter, but injuries, including to All-America cornerback Chris Canty, opened the way for BYU to complete a comeback, 19-15.