AMES — Trice Magic.
How did this happen? How did Iowa State’s football team go from trailing 38-21 after a Kansas State touchdown with 12:27 left in the game Saturday night to rallying to win at Jack Trice Stadium, 42-38?
Well, the Cyclones kept playing. It was just that simple. Now they have their first six-win conference season in school history and will take an 8-4 record to a pretty decent bowl game after they dispose of Drake here next Saturday.
Yes, they kept playing. After going down by 17 points, they went 77 yards in six plays to cut the gap to 38-28. Freshman quarterback Brock Purdy completed all five of his passes on the drive, and if nothing else, it said the Cyclones weren’t surrendering meekly.
Then came a lightning bolt. K-State had third-and-6 at its 29. ISU linebacker Willie Harvey sacked Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson, who fumbled the ball. Freshman linebacker Mike Rose picked it up and ran it 20 yards to the end zone with 8:34 left.
It was 38-35, and a severe storm warning had been issued to K-State.
Oh, but nothing comes easily for the Cyclones when Bill Snyder’s Wildcats are involved. K-State came here with a 10-game win streak and 22 wins in its last 24 games against Iowa State. But this time, the 79-year-old Hall of Famer didn’t have enough firepower to go the distance.
The Cyclones found some more defense after such a rough go of it on that side of the ball for most of the game, and forced a three-and-out. A punt gave ISU the ball on its 31, and young Purdy went back to work.
He ran for 17 yards. His downfield pass to Matthew Eaton drew a pass-interference call on the Wildcats. He threw for 9 yards to Charlie Kolar on a third-and-5 to the K-State 23. Then David Montgomery ran 18 yards for a touchdown, and the Cyclones were up 42-38 with 4:34 still to play.
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That was 21 points in 5:44, as Big 12-ish a stretch as anything in Friday night’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game.
The game wasn’t over. Oh no, it wasn’t. The Wildcats returned the kickoff to their 21. They had a fourth-and-1 at the 30, then 225-pound running back Alex Barnes ripped through a hole for 20 yards. Barnes was great all night, 28 carries for 184 yards.
But the Cyclones held K-State to 3 yards on its next four plays to take over on downs. A defensive front that had been outplayed most of the game finished great. The cold crowd of 54,430 certainly did its best to yell the defenders to success.
ISU took over at its 47 with 1:14 left. Montgomery, who had a pile of yards after contact this night as usual, powered for 9 yards on first down. Then he ran for 13 more, and that was that. He had 19 rushes for 149 yards and three touchdowns. He’s good.
“David,” said Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell, “if he’s not one of the best players in college football I don’t know who is. What he’s done for this program and this team is really special.
“It was fitting he was kind of leading the ship when we needed it the most.”
As for Purdy, what revelation that 18-year-old has been. He wasn’t good — for the first time in his career — in Iowa State’s 24-10 loss at Texas the Saturday before. But he passed for 337 yards this night, and didn’t let two second-half interceptions send him off the rails. Campbell called one of the two picks a great throw that an ISU receiver simply didn’t track down.
“It was Brock’s best football game of his career today,” Campbell said. “What you saw today from that guy was pretty powerful. ... the character and conviction to step in there and just keep playing. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
“Brock doing Brock things,” Montgomery said. “Brock took control of the game. He’s young, but he’s very savvy. I’m just grateful to be able to have him on my team.”
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This win points the Cyclones and their fans toward a nice bowl game. Maybe in Orlando, maybe in San Antonio. It will be a tourist destination, and it will be against an opponent with a serious football program.
After the hard-to-take 24-10 loss at Texas the week before, this was a palate cleanser. When things looked like they had spiraled badly, they zigged right back into Iowa State’s wheelhouse in the nick of time. A defense that has been so good for so much of the season reminded itself what it was. A teenage quarterback who had done so much to change this season reminded himself what he was.
This is how things have turned here: The Cyclones will be 8-4 as they head to their bowl, and few will say they were terribly surprised.
This rally to win a game that looked lost, this was magic. Right? Well, not quite.
“The perfect storm is you’ve got to make the storm,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to create the storm. I felt like a week ago we were the team that played not to lose and the other team was the team that played to go win the Big 12 championship. Lesson learned.
“So in those moments, you’ve got to go make them.”
This was a moment. A Cyclones-made whirlwind of a moment.
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