Big 12: Leroy Hodge
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Yes Sirr: Parker's big catches lead A&M to 1998 championship
Date: Dec. 5, 1998
Place: TWA Dome, St. Louis, Mo.
Score: Texas A&M 36, Kansas State 33 (2 OT)
Kansas State was on the verge of the biggest triumph in school history and a likely berth in the first Bowl Championship Series national title game if the Wildcats could claim their first Big 12 title.
That excitement intensified early in the Big 12 title game against Texas A&M after the final score of Miami's 49-45 victory over UCLA was announced over the TWA Dome public-address system. That was only a couple of moments after Darnell McDonald's 66-yard touchdown reception from Michael Bishop boosted the Wildcats to a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter.
A berth in the national title game hinged on the Wildcats completing their victory over the Aggies.
But a funny thing happened after that. A&M became the rejuvenated, more focused team in the fourth quarter after the Wildcats had extended their lead to 27-12 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Bishop late in the third quarter.
A&M quarterback Branndon Stewart, forced into action because of starter Randy McCown's broken collarbone, caught fire during a wild fourth-quarter rally.
Stewart cut into the deficit 5:40 into the fourth quarter on a 13-yard touchdown strike to Leroy Hodge to trim the KSU lead to 27-19. And he later moved the Aggies 76 yards on four plays to the Kansas State 14 before a sack by KSU linebacker Ben Leber and a fourth-down pass deflection by Damion McIntosh caused the drive to stall.
The Aggies' "Wrecking Crew" defense came up with a huge play on the ensuing possession after KSU took control with 3:26 left with hopes of running out the clock. But on the second play of the drive, Bishop was hit by A&M linebacker Warrick Holdman, forcing a fumble that was recovered by A&M linebacker Cornelius Anthony at the Wildcats' 35.
A spectacular diving catch by backup A&M wide receiver Matt Bumgardner accounted for 36 yards to the KSU 14. Two plays later, Stewart hit backup tailback Sirr Parker on a slant play for a 9-yard touchdown pass. After a timeout, Stewart and Parker connected on the two-point conversion play to tie the score with 1:05 left.
Bishop had one more chance during regulation. The Wildcats lined up for a 69-yard field goal attempt by Martin Gramatica in the closing seconds, but a delay-of-game penalty prevented them from trying the kick. Instead, Bishop lofted a "Hail Mary" play that was caught by Everett Burnett for a 55-yard gain before he was stopped at the A&M 2 on the final play of regulation.
A&M took the first possession of overtime and marched to the KSU 1 before settling for an 18-yard Russell Bynum field goal. KSU answered by gaining 21 yards on a drive that was capped by a 22-yarder by Gramatica that tied the game at 30.
Gramatica added another 25-yard field goal to give the Wildcats a 33-30 lead to start the second overtime. The Aggies then lost two yards on their first play of their possession and faced a third-and-17 play after a penalty from the KSU 32.
But rather than playing to tie the game, Stewart hit Parker on another clutch slant pass. The 5-foot-7 Parker eluded Luke Butler and then streaked past Lamar Chapman en route to the right corner of the end zone. He finished with a 32-yard touchdown reception that ranks as the biggest play in A&M football history.
They said it, part I: "It's a sick feeling. It's a terrible situation," KSU quarterback Michael Bishop on the Wildcats' late collapse.
They said it, part II: "This may be, in their young lives, the most difficult thing that they've ever had to handle. The pain that comes from this is obvious," KSU coach Bill Snyder on his team's collapse at the end of regulation.
They said it, part III: "Once I caught the slant, I felt him (Butler) fall of my back. I saw I had one man to beat, so I ran for the end zone," A&M running back Sirr Parker on his game-winning TD grab.
They said it, part IV: "I love opportunities to prove people wrong. People say, 'Stewart can't do this. Stewart can't do that.' I love proving them wrong." A&M quarterback Branndon Stewart, who told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he delighted in confounding naysayers with his dramatic comeback performance.
They said it, part V: "Gimme some sugar! Whoop! Whoop!" The chant of A&M players and Coach R.C. Slocum after finishing the victory that earned them a berth in the Sugar Bowl.
Factoids: Stewart, who transferred from Tennessee after Peyton Manning beat him out for the starting job, struggled early in the KSU game. The A&M quarterback misfired on his first five passes, with one interception ... Despite his late fumble, Bishop had one of the best games of his career, passing for 324 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 101 yards ... Kansas State entered the game with a nation-best 19-game winning streak and had outscored its first 11 opponents of the season by an average margin of 49-11 ... But KSU was its own worst enemy as the Wildcats were penalized 13 times for 110 yards against the Aggies ... A&M tailback Dante Hall gashed KSU's defense for 113 yards and bullish tailback JaMar Toombs added a 1-yard TD plunge. It was only the third rushing touchdown that the Wildcats had allowed during the 1998 season ... Stewart completed just 4-of-11 passes for 89 yards and an interception through three quarters. But he was 9-of-16 for 185 yards for two TDs in the fourth quarter and finished with a career-high 324 yards after his overtime TD pass to Parker ... The Aggies claimed their first conference championship since winning the 1993 Southwest Conference title. They also denied KSU's hopes of earning its first title since claiming the Big Six Conference in 1934 ... A&M's comeback from a 15-point deficit tied the school record at the time of the game, matching the Aggies' 15-point comeback in a 1997 overtime triumph over Oklahoma State ... A&M linebacker Dat Nguyen set a Big 12 championship game record with 17 tackles.
The upshot: The victory boosted the Aggies into their first BCS bowl game in history as they advanced to the Sugar Bowl. But the Buckeyes claimed a 24-14 victory that dropped the Aggies to 11-3 for the season. A&M finished the season ranked No. 11 in the final Associated Press poll. They have finished ranked only once at the end of season since then - a No. 23 ranking after the 1999 season.
KSU's loss caused them to free-fall all the way to the Alamo Bowl, where they met Purdue. Bishop struggled with a four-interception performance as the Boilermakers escaped with a wild 37-34 upset victory. The Wildcats finished 11-2 for the season and No. 10 in the final AP poll.
Bishop finished second in the Heisman Trophy balloting after the 1998 season, substantially behind winner Ricky Williams of Texas. And Nguyen's big effort in the championship game helped him claim the Lombardi and Bednarik awards as the most decorated player in A&M's Big 12 history.
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