By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com ContributorFollow Ian on Twitter HERE
AMES – Steele Jantz wears No. 2 on his Iowa State jersey, but underneath there might be a big Cardinal “S.”
For three quarters, Jantz played worse than below-average football. In the fourth, he morphed into a combination of Fran Tarkenton and Houdini.
Behind the magical play of its quarterback, the Cyclones (1-0) staged a dramatic comeback to beat Northern Iowa 20-19 at Jack Trice Stadium.
“(Jantz) finally did things that I’ve never seen him do,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “There were throws that he made with the wrong foot, throws that he made with his hips open, but we saw flashes of the guy that he is and that he can be.”
After starting the game 13-of-31 passing for 91 yards, Jantz went 5-of-9 for 95 yards and a touchdown in the final five minutes and 37 seconds. He added another 28 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the ground.
Jantz came through when his team needed it most. Down 13-7 and looking like a JV squad, it was the junior college transfer who lifted Iowa State. Jantz started the rally by throwing a strike down the left sideline to Josh Lenz for a 25-yard gain.
Three plays later, on 4th-and-10 from the Panthers’ 26, Jantz pulled off a high-wire act. Under heavy pressure, Jantz sprinted to his right and just before running out of bounds he unleashed a pass across his body to a sliding Lenz in the end zone. Lenz skillfully got his feet down inbounds for the touchdown.
“It was do or die,” Jantz said.
“Our scramble rules are just get to the nearest sideline,” Lenz added. “He was rolling out to the right so I just took off to the sideline in the end zone and he threw a great ball to me.”
The Panthers’ answered on their next offensive snap with an 80-yard touchdown of their own to regain the lead, but Jantz wouldn’t be denied. He found Aaron Horne down the middle of the field for a 32-yard reception down to the Northern Iowa 2-yard line.
It took three more snaps, but Jantz’s QB sneak with 40 seconds left gave the Cyclones the lead for good at 20-19.
While Jantz’s final stats aren’t impressive, the 6-foot-3, 224-pound signal caller recorded the one thing a matter’s most – a victory.
“We started off pretty slow, especially myself, but we never gave up,” Jantz said. “We were able to make it happen at the end.”
Jantz finished 18-of-40 passing for 187 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He also led Iowa State on the ground with 80 yards on 20 carries and two more scores.
What Jantz lacked in accuracy, he made up for with moxie. He showed a knack for feeling the pass rush and creating plays under pressure.
“It was good to see Steele out there trying to make plays,” said Horne, who played with Jantz at City College of San Francisco. “His running ability, that’s something I’m used too. I’m used to see him scramble and get out of the pocket a lot.”
Panthers lose control
Up until the final 5:37, the best thing about the game for Iowa State fans was the new scoreboard. Northern Iowa dominated both sides of the ball and looked like it was on its way to an upset victory.
“They are a very, very good football team,” Rhoads said.
It all started with Tirrell Rennie, who plays like a running back that lines up at QB. The senior created problems for Iowa State with his quickness and run first mentality. Rennie finished with 127 yards on the ground and 181 through the air.
“Their quarterback can take a broken down play and scramble and get a first down,” Iowa State free safety Jacques Washington said. “That’s tough to defend.”
Fortunately for the Cyclones, they did an excellent job of containing the rest of the Panthers’ backs. Carlos Anderson and David Johnson combined for just 90 yards on 24 carries.
The defense kept Iowa State in the game and gave the Cyclones a chance for a late comeback.
“I’m proud of the defensive effort,” Rhoads said. “Sometimes in a game like that it’s easy to get down in the dumps. Those kids never did.”
Iowa State needs to improve on both sides of the ball before Iowa comes to Ames next weekend, especially on offense. Rhoads doesn’t doubt his squad will and he is looking forward to the challenge.
“We have a lot of work to do on the offensive side of the ball,” Rhoads said. “We have to protect better. We have to maintain blocks better. We have to execute and finish plays better.
“But the bottom line is that good football teams find ways to win. That’s what our football team did tonight.”