AMES — This wasn’t just securing outright first place in Big 12 Conference football, the first football first place Iowa State has ever secured in the lifetimes of you or anyone you know.
This was the Cyclones taking an ax to the door of the room containing first place, smashing it to splinters with great efficiency, having a grand old time doing it, and leaving no doubt about what it came out to achieve Saturday and across its nine-game conference season.
This was supposed to be a contest, something for the Cyclones to approach with caution. Though No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings, they were favored by only a touchdown over unranked West Virginia at Jack Trice Stadium. Understandably, the national college football talking heads said Saturday morning that Iowa State would win against a Mountaineers team that had been outgaining its foes by 169 yards per game, but it would be hard-earned.
But this was no contest. This was a 42-6 Iowa State win that showed how the Cyclones have gotten more menacing as this season gets older.
This is a program that has not only found its footing, but has done some trampling. It closed the book on the conference regular season with an 8-1 record, playing everyone in the league and losing only by a field goal at Oklahoma State.
“We didn’t set out to be the regular-season champs or be 8-1, 8-2,” said Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar.
“Yeah, it’s a great win, we’re happy we’re glad to send the seniors off the way we did. But we’ve still got games left to play.”
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Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell said the postgame reaction in his team’s locker room was subdued.
“Obviously,” Campbell said, “this team’s proud of what it’s been able to do, and (there was) certainly a lot of celebration toward our seniors. But I think there’s also a sense of understanding that there’s more football left to be played.
“If we want to continue to move forward, then we’re going to have to learn from tonight and then continue to get ourselves back in the habit of moving forward.”
He’ll surely forgive his team’s fans if they allow themselves to bask in the best regular season in school history, a team with really good ballplayers.
Iowa State has the Big 12’s best running back in Breece Hall (153 total yards), it may have the league’s best quarterback in Brock Purdy, and it may have the conference’s best defense. Statistically, West Virginia had the league’s No. 1 defense before Saturday. Then it gave up 483 yards and six touchdowns to Purdy and the Cyclones.
“I think I’m just playing my game as far as not overthinking things,” Purdy said, “keeping it simple, trusting what the coaches are calling, and understanding I’ve got really good guys around me.”
Is Purdy a really good guy, too?
“Elite,” said Campbell. “I think he’s been incredible.
“He may be one of the great leaders of all-time in the history of this school.”
Purdy didn’t throw an off-target pass and was 20 of 23 for 247 yards and three touchdowns. In the third quarter, he hit Kolar for a score in one of those plays that, like Hall’s sensational first-quarter touchdown run, will linger for a long time.
From the West Virginia 16, Purdy lofted the ball to the right center of the end zone. The 6-foot-6 Kolar was held, hugged, and handcuffed by 5-11 safety Alonzo Addae, one of the Mountaineers’ best coverage guys. A penalty flag for interference was dropped.
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Kolar caught the ball with one hand, seemingly untroubled by Addae’s presence. It was 28-0, and all that was really left was to wait for “Sweet Caroline” to play on the public-address system after the game and the players to wave to the 14,256 swaying fans allowed to attend.
There’s football left for this team, the kind that matters most. No Cyclone was calling first-place any sort of championship. That will come only by winning in two weeks.
“We don’t want to just get there,” Purdy said. “We want to win it.”
You’ll be told they won’t. But who told you this first-place season would happen?
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