By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
The final meeting between Iowa State and Nebraska came down to one last play. Like so many times before, it went the Cornhuskers’ way.
After scoring a touchdown in the first overtime, the Cyclones’ fake extra point attempt fluttered in the wind and short of the waiting arms of Collin Franklin giving No. 9 ranked Nebraska a 31-30 victory before 51,159 fans at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames.
“I could escort you back into the locker room and show you how much it hurts,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said after the loss. “I got no problem with grown men crying. I’ve got a lot of grown men crying.”
An Austen Arnaud to Jake Williams 9-yard touchdown pass set up the final dramatic play. Instead of kicking the extra point to send the game into a second overtime, Rhoads called a fake.
Holder Daniel Kuehl – who is also the backup punter – took the snap and rolled to his left. Franklin slipped behind the Husker defense, but Kuehl’s shot put pass into a stiff wind wobbled well short of its target and into the arms Nebraska’s Eric Hagg.
“The play was there,” Rhoads said. “Collin Franklin was wide open on the play and we weren’t able to execute. Again, it’s a game of inches.”
The Cyclones (5-5, 3-3) were that close to sending the Cornhuskers to the Big Ten with two-straight losses to Iowa State.
“This program has no interest in moral victories,” Arnaud said. “We come out every Saturday expecting to win and today we didn’t.
“We’re in shock.”
If not for a courageous fourth quarter comeback, the Cyclones would never have been in position to win the game. Arnaud – who finished 21-of-32 passing for 203 yards with two interceptions – started the scoring with by engineering a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard quarterback sneak to make the score 24-17 still in Nebraska’s (8-1, 4-1) favor.
“Our kids never buckled,” Rhoads said. “They never flinched – they kept on playing. We executed as an offensive football team to get the score.”
The Cornhuskers’ Niles Paul fumbled the ensuing kickoff to give Iowa State possession at the 17-yard line. Four plays later, the Cyclones tied it up when Arnaud found Alexander Robinson in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown strike.
The Iowa State defense played lights out in the fourth quarter after some shaky moments in the third. In the game, Nebraska gained just 314 yards on offense, including only 79 through the air.
“The defense did a great job in the fourth quarter,” linebacker A.J. Klein said. “I think we won the quarter, personally. The special teams play was also huge, getting that turnover. I think we did a great job of not letting them drive the field and getting the ball back for our offense.”
A sputtering Nebraska offense continued to give Iowa State chances in the fourth quarter. The Cyclones’ Grant Mahoney – who went 1-of-3 on the day – missed a 55-yard field goal with 3 minutes, and 19 seconds left that would have given Iowa State the lead.
Later, Iowa State took possession of the ball with 40 seconds left on its own 20-yard line. Instead of going for a potentially game winning score, the Cyclones took a knee to go into overtime.
“With that far to travel against one of the nations top defenses that had already scored a defensive touchdown, it was too much risk in that,” Rhoads said. “At that point, our kids didn’t deserve something like that at to not get the opportunity to go into overtime.”
The Cornhuskers took the ball first in the extra frame and wasted no time scoring. Rex Burkhead rushed in from 19 yards out on Nebraska’s second play to go ahead 31-24.
Iowa State answered in three plays. Arnaud hit Williams in the right side of the end zone on a fade pattern to make it 31-30.
That’s when Rhoads made his gutsy call.
“It was a good call, we just didn’t execute,” Franklin said. “They brought the block from my side and I slipped out toward the corner of the end zone. We just didn’t execute.”