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20 Years Later: Indiana State

Recapping the first game of Kansas State’s historic 1998 season

Michael Bishop

It’s been 20 years since the single greatest season of Kansas State football. To commemorate the anniversary, Bring On the Cats is recapping each game of that magical 1998 season.

September 5, 1998/Manhattan, Kansas

Kansas State vs. Indiana State

It’s been nearly a century of futility, and about a decade of grit and perseverance, but Kansas State is ranked 6th in both the AP and Coaches polls after a brilliant 11-1 campaign in 1997, and is finally—FINALLY!—a legitimate national title contender.

The mood in Manhattan borders on euphoria. The purple faithful can barely contain their excitement, and are keenly aware that they’re standing on the cusp of a special moment in school history. Basically, “[i]f there were a TV show detailing K-State’s football history, this might not be a good time to flip through the channels.” (Sam Felsenfeld, K-State Collegian, August 24, 1998).

In the first game of the 1998 season, Kansas State takes on Indiana State. Not only are the Wildcats ranked in the Top 10 of most polls, but they also return 18 starters from the previous season, including Heisman candidate Michael Bishop, three linebackers—Travis Ochs, Jeff Kelly, and Mark Simoneau—who are all Butkus Award candidates, and Martin Gramatica, who had won the Lou Groza Award for college football’s best kicker just the previous year.

The game is expected to be a romp for Kansas State. Asked how to contain Bishop, Indiana State head coach Tim McGuire demurs, adding “[w]e’ve told our defensive backs that when he starts scrambling around, hey, just run to the goal line.” (Pregame, Manhattan Mercury, September 4, 1998).

If there is a concern, it’s only that the Sycamores run the triple option, an offense defensive coordinator Mike Stoops hates. Indeed, he claims he’d rather be audited than face the triple option. Luckily for him, Indiana State is running the triple option for the first time (Ryan O’Halloran, Mercury).

The week leading up to the game is strange. Just a week before the game, the school had announced a four-game suspension for running back Frank Murphy, months after self-reporting possible NCAA violations. This is disappointing and threatens to put a damper on the whole game. Then there’s the matter of the long lines for ticket sales, not to mention the increase in price for student football and combo basketball tickets.

Still, game day dawns without a hitch. Bill Snyder has already tipped his hand a bit, suggesting the Wildcats “should win,” which is about as confident a prediction as the man will ever make (Joe Berggren, K-State Collegian, September 4, 1998).

The actual game is at night, and as I remember it, it’s pretty warm for a September evening. The stands are full, and the student section is as loud and raucous as it’s ever been. The air is charged with anticipation and excitement. Indiana State kicks off and...the game is pretty much over right there.

Kansas State wins 66-0, in even more of a blowout than the scoreline suggests. The Wildcats absolutely dominate every facet of the game, rolling up almost 500 yards of total offense. Weirdly, the game ends up nearly setting a school record for points, even though Kansas State makes every effort not to run up the score. The starters are pulled early in the second quarter, the Wildcats only have 18 pass plays in the entire game, and nearly every punt in the second half is fair-caught.

The defense is devastating, allowing only one first down until the Sycamores’ final drive of the game. Indiana State averages 2.9 plays and less than 6 yards on each of its drives and only manages 87 yards the entire game.

On special teams, Kansas State gets a blocked punt as well as a 64-yard punt return touchdown from David Allen to go with Gramatica’s school-record effort of nine extra points and the Big 12 record field goal of 55 yards.

Afterwards, in his usual style, Snyder notes he “wasn’t unhappy” with the way the team played (Mark Janssen, Manhattan Mercury, September 6, 1998).

For their efforts, the Wildcats move up to #5 in the AP and Coaches polls the following Monday.