AMES — No. 25 Iowa State went from losing to Kansas State — potentially getting blown out — to winning in 21 yards.
With 8:34 left in the fourth quarter, linebacker Willie Harvey stripped Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson and middle linebacker Mike Rose quickly picked the ball out of the air and dashed 21 yards to the end zone to make the game 38-35 with the Wildcats still in the lead.
The ISU defense promptly forced a three-and-out and the offense capitalized, getting an 18-yard touchdown run from David Montgomery to go up 42-38 with 4:34 left.
Iowa State’s defense held strong for a final time and forced a turnover on downs on Kansas State’s last drive, ending a 10-year losing streak to the Wildcats. The Cyclones (7-4, 6-3 Big 12) scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 42-38, rallying from a 17-point deficit.
“We knew we needed a spark down 17 in the fourth,” Harvey said. “The fans probably thought it was over, but we knew and we believed in ourselves. You have to be the one to cause the spark.”
Harvey said he just hit Thompson as hard as he could and hoped for the best. The best happened.
“Defensive touchdowns change momentum fast — like incredibly fast,” receiver Hakeem Butler said. “Carson (Epps) said it, but Willie Harvey is one of the best blitzers in the world. He times it so crazy and the way he gets back there so fast. And Mike just capitalized and kept trucking.”
The game seemed like a summation of Iowa State’s season in a lot of ways. The Cyclones started slow and seemed out of it, but found a way to turn it around.
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“I really think it’s who we are,” coach Matt Campbell said. “We’re not flashy, we’re not always pretty, but you better not count us out. It’s a team — and a program now — that’s existed that way for the last two years.”
When Iowa State was down 17, it wasn’t the coaches who delivered messages on the sidelines. It was the players.
“That’s the thing, there was no coaches message,” Montgomery said. “It was more of a players message. We have too much trust in each other just to give up like that.
“That’s the old Iowa State and we’re trying to make a new one.”
Montgomery didn’t reveal who gave the message to the offense, but did say it was a good message.
Butler, on the other hand, did say who was leading the charge on the sidelines.
It was Montgomery.
Both Montgomery and Butler were the offensive stars for the Cyclones.
Montgomery rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries.
“Yeah, he was awesome,” Campbell said. “David, 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. We see the runs and all the great stuff that’s happened. I see the consistency, I see the guy that two years ago, in January and February, when nobody else would come here, he was here working. I see a guy that sacrificed everything for this program and this university.
“It was really fitting that he was leading the ship when we needed it the most. I’m really proud of him and I thought he was outstanding today.”
Butler caught just five passes, but he made them count, gaining 144 yards and getting one touchdown.
Quarterback Brock Purdy was a threat in both phases of the game, passing for 337 yards and two touchdowns on 20-for-27 passing. He also rushed 10 times for 37 yards.
It wasn’t always perfect statistically for Purdy, though. In the third quarter, Purdy threw two interceptions. The first one was bobbled by receiver Landen Akers before Kansas State defensive back Kevion McGee hauled it in. Kansas State, again, capitalized on the turnover.
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The second interception came on the Cyclones’ next drive with McGee again picking off Iowa State’s true freshman quarterback. And like clockwork, Kansas State scored a touchdown.
“Brock’s best football game of his career today,” Campbell said. “Even the ball he throws that gets intercepted, it’s like, ‘Holy smokes, what a throw.’ I mean, the receiver’s got to make a better play on the ball and catch it. But what you saw today from that guy, pretty powerful. Really special. Great poise. He is who he is.
“I’m really proud of what he’s doing. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without him. We certainly wouldn’t be in a game where we were today without his performance.”
Before the defensive touchdown, the Cyclone defense was allowing Kansas State to run all over. The Wildcats ended the game with 245 rushing yards, led by Alex Barnes, the Big 12’s leading rusher, who ran for 184 yards and a touchdown.
But the Cyclones overcame the adversity and the defense came alive in the fourth quarter when it needed to. Defensive coordinator Jon Heacock sent more blitzes and hurried Thompson to the point where he had a hard time completing passes.
“We were all over the place and I don’t know why. It’s felt that way for the last two games,” Campbell said. “For the previous seven quarters, we haven’t felt like we’ve felt. Whether we’ve worn down — we’ve obviously battled some injuries. But what was so fun to watch was when we needed it the most, the guys that have led the way the entire time stepped up and made huge plays. I think that was really the turning point.”
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