Collin Klein dropped to his knees with bloodied, bandaged elbows and a crushed heart. His final pass on Nov. 5, 2011, fell incomplete, and Kansas State was 5 yards short of extending its game against undefeated, No. 3 Oklahoma State.
It was a painful night for Klein and his teammates, but a year later, Oklahoma State comes to Manhattan to face an undefeated K-State team. Without that night, this year's reprisal and role reversal might not have been possible.
"I think that showed us we can play with anyone on any given Saturday," receiver Curry Sexton told ESPN.com this week. "That just helped our confidence grow and showed us we can play with anyone. That was big for us through the end of that season and even going into this season. I think that’s probably the biggest thing we took out of that game."
A confidence boost -- even if it was a loss -- is exactly what Kansas State needed a week after getting run off its own home field by Oklahoma. The Sooners won by 41 in Manhattan, giving the Wildcats their first loss of the 2011 season and ending a magical run of comebacks and improbable upsets that got K-State to 7-0. That Oklahoma game provided plenty of evidence to those who did not believe the Cardiac Cats were for real. A week later, the Wildcats gave themselves reason to believe.
"This team put everything we had in that game, and just having the offense inside the 5-yard line with zeros on the clock was the most disappointing thing about that loss. We were so close. You could see it right in front of you, but we didn’t go out and get it," Sexton said. "Even though we did lose, it helped us with the confidence in ourselves."
The Wildcats rallied from a 14-0 deficit to take a 24-14 lead on an Allen Chapman interception return. Klein grabbed the lead and later tied the score with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs, but one final drive simply ran out of time.
A year later, Kansas State has lost just once in 11 games since -- in the Cotton Bowl to an Arkansas team that still had Bobby Petrino. The Wildcats are all but done playing close games these days. Only two of K-State's eight wins this season have been by fewer than two touchdowns, and the Wildcats beat a pair of top-15 teams by 41 (West Virginia) and 31 (Texas Tech) points in consecutive weeks.
No top-15 teams remain on the schedule, but the task ahead will be convincing voters the Wildcats belong in the national title game.
Style points, though?
"I don’t even know what a style point is," coach Bill Snyder said. "I don’t have an attitude toward it. I just think you prepare and you go out and play as well as you can."
The Wildcats have Oklahoma State this week, their sixth consecutive team with zero or one loss in Big 12 play. Week after week, the Wildcats have had to fend off suitors for the Big 12 title, a trophy that has eluded the SnyderCats since 2003, their only Big 12 title.
Nobody on Snyder's staff studies the BCS formula and passes along any information. The task is the same every week: Win. How "stylish" that win is? Snyder apparently has racked up a whole bunch of style points already this season with wins the past two weeks and an earlier blowout at home against Miami without even trying.
"That’s not significant in my thinking at all. I don’t think anybody likes to run scores up," Snyder said. "I don’t think about those things."
This week, Oklahoma State comes with the intention of winning another game against the revived Cats and getting the inside track on a second consecutive Big 12 title. Just don't tell K-State.
"We don’t look at the standings. We don’t look at anything else. We just focus on Kansas State and getting better every week. I think that’s been big for us, because we don’t really look at the bigger picture," Sexton said. "We don’t look at the conference standings and stuff like that. We realize that if you start looking at that stuff, you slip up and lose and then all of a sudden none of that stuff matters anymore."