AUSTIN (AP) — It was a play that will live in Texas infamy.
On a quarterback sneak, Colt McCoy pushed and stretched over the goal line for a touchdown when — crack! His head snapped back in a helmet-to-helmet collision with a Kansas State defender.
Excruciating pain tore through his neck, into his shoulder and down his right arm. McCoy was done after the opening drive, heading to the bench with a pinched nerve in his neck and essentially taking the Longhorns’ 2006 season with him.
Now, McCoy has a chance to beat the Wildcats when No. 7 Texas (4-0) prepares to meet Kansas State (2-1) Saturday in the Big 12 opener for both teams.
Last year, a television camera caught a shot of McCoy yelling in pain on the bench. Texas went on to lose 45-42.
“The pain was bad, but there was no way that you could just fight through the pain,” McCoy said. “It took away all (my) strength. It took away everything. Holding a football was hard,” he said.
The injury battered McCoy and ultimately crushed Texas’ season. The Longhorns had been rolling through an eight-game winning streak that had them in the thick of the national title chase.
When McCoy left the field, the entire team never really recovered. K-State jumped in for the kill with gadget plays and quarterback Josh Freeman passed for three touchdowns and ran for another in the upset.
The Wildcats ended Texas’ 21-game Big 12 winning streak. When it was over, thousands of purple-clad fans stormed the field to celebrate coach Ron Prince’s biggest win.
Things only got worse for Texas.
McCoy tried to come back two weeks later against Texas A&M but it was too soon. His strength had not returned and he threw three interceptions in a 12-7 loss that knocked Texas out of the Big 12 title game.
“It seems the life went out of our team when Colt got hurt,” coach Mack Brown said. “It was disappointing.”
It also proved just how valuable this baby-faced kid had become. It motivated McCoy to get bigger and stronger and better able to take the punishments in the trenches.
“It’s a long season and it’s tough,” McCoy said. “The more you can withstand, the better your team is going to be.”
McCoy has been inconsistent in the first four games this season. He’s thrown seven touchdowns but already has five interceptions after throwing only four picks in the first 11 games last year.
When he passed for 333 yards and three TDs against Rice last week, Brown said he saw the “Colt of old.”
“That was Colt’s best game by far,” Brown said. “He was relaxed and he made the throws he needed to make and he scrambled.”
McCoy was a freshman along for the ride last season. He’s the established team leader now and admits he’s been trying — to a fault — to be perfect.
“I had been trying to put us in the perfect play. I had been trying to make every play and I don’t have to do that,” he said. “I have great playmakers around me.”
Freeman was nearly perfect against Texas last season but hasn’t been able to produce anything close to that performance since then. Since beating Texas, he’s thrown two touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“Last year, I was a young quarterback and at times a stupid quarterback,” Freeman told the Austin American-Statesman this week. “This year I feel like I have a lot more balance in the pocket. I feel like I can make all the throws. My game is nowhere where it needs to be, but it’s improving.”
Texas players expect to see Freeman at his best on Saturday.
“He’s a really gifted athlete,” linebacker Scott Derry said. “He played really great (last year) and kind of had a coming out party against us.”
Texas lost a lot with that defeat at Kansas State last season, but Texas players say they won’t be looking back.
“This isn’t a revenge game,” Longhorns senior offensive tackle Tony Hills said. “What happened in the past, happened in the past.”
BIG 12 FOOTBALL, Kansas State Wildcats (2-1, 0-0), at No. 7 Texas Longhorns (4-0, 0-0), 2:30 p.m. (ABC) — DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium