GLENDALE, Ariz. — Breece Hall and the rest of his Iowa State football teammates won’t forget 2020 anytime soon, even as the calendar rolls into 2021.
The season finished on a historic high note for the Cyclones and the consensus All-America running back as the No. 10 Cyclones rolled to a 34-17 Fiesta Bowl victory over No. 25 Oregon on Saturday.
Hall, a sophomore, carried the ball 34 times for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
“It feels good just to know that all of our hard work has paid off,” Hall said. “And just to go down as one of the best teams in Iowa State history. That’s the reason why I came here.”
His performance Saturday capped arguably the best season for an Iowa State running back since Troy Davis, and put an exclamation point on a victory which capped arguably the Cyclones’ best season in school history.
Hall’s season-long performance as the nation’s leading rusher, and accolades this season (Big 12 offensive player of the year and a finalist for the Doak Walker award for the nation’s best running back) already have him in the conversation as Iowa State’s best, joining the likes of Davis and David Montgomery.
But Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell thinks Hall can be even better.
“As great as he is, I think there’s growth for Breece Hall to continue to be even better,” Campbell said. “I’ll really look forward to going back and watching this game.”
Both Hall’s touchdowns Saturday were 1-yard plunges.
The first came with 7:46 left in the first quarter to finish the Cyclones’ 15-play, 75-yard opening drive. The drive ate up almost half the first quarter as the Cyclones went up 7-0.
In between Hall’s two scores, quarterback Brock Purdy found tight end Charlie Kolar for a 14-yard TD. Purdy also scored on a 1-yard plunge of his own.
The second Hall touchdown came with just under 90 seconds left in the first half, the exclamation point on a short, three-play, 27-yard drive that started on an Oregon kick return gaffe that was recovered by backup running back Rory Walling, who was put on scholarship this week.
Iowa State dominated on the ground, netting 228 yards, the bulk of which came from Hall. Kene Nwangu added 11 carries for 55 yards. Purdy had nine carries for 39 yards and a touchdown
The Cyclones (9-3) had 85 plays for 384 total yards. Purdy finished 20 of 29 for 156 yards and a touchdown. The Ducks (4-3) ran 18 times for 86 yards and threw for 226 yards between the two quarterbacks who rotated.
If Hall can continue his upward trajectory as Campbell thinks he can, there could be better days ahead still for the Cyclones.
The ninth win of the 2020 season matches the 2000 campaign for most wins in school history, but this edition of Cyclones finished their season with the program’s highest profile bowl victory, in the program’s first New Year’s Six bowl berth.
The win also bookends a five-year stretch for the Cyclones since Campbell took over in 2016 — going 3-9 — that includes four winning seasons and four bowl berths with two bowl victories.
“You know it’s not been perfect, and it never will be here,” Campbell said. “We’re always going to have to go up the rough side of the mountain at Iowa State just because that’s who we are, that’s how the program is.
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“And yet, when you have elite character, elite leadership, great things can happen. And that’s really what we’ve been able to develop now in our fifth year.”
Those great things Campbell noted are likely not possible without Hall, who finished the season with 1,572 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns this season, on top of 23 catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The Fiesta Bowl could be a taste of bigger things to come for the Cyclones, who will leave the desert with even higher aspirations for next season.
“We got a taste of it,” Hall said. “But we always want to reach a new level and become the best Iowa State, become the best players and people that we can be. So in a couple of weeks we’re going to come back and just start to get back to work again.”