AMES – With its back against the wall again, West Virginia’s defense finally stood tall.
Darwin Cook smacked Iowa State’s Jeff Woody to force a game-clinching fumble as the running back was rumbling for a tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5) recovered in the end zone and held off the Cyclones for a 31-24 win.
"Turnovers will always get you,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
Cook’s big play was just one of a handful the Mountaineers made on Friday. Iowa State had chances to upset West Virginia. The Cyclones (6-6, 3-6) held leads of 21-20 and 24-23 in the fourth quarter, but the Mountaineers answered each time. The biggest statement came from Tavon Austin.
One play after Edwin Arceo drilled a 49-yard field goal to push Iowa State ahead 24-23, Austin broke loose. The lightning-quick receiver took a jet sweep 75 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
“It seemed like to took the life right out of the crowd,” Iowa State defensive tackle Jake McDonough said. “He’s an explosive player. It’s hard to mimic his explosiveness during the week.”
The same could be said for the entire West Virginia offense. Led by their star quarterback Geno Smith and Austin, the Mountaineers totaled 475 yards of offense. Shawne Alston paced an effective ground attack with 130 yards as West Virginia rushed for 239 as a team.
“Quite honestly, they made us look silly and unprepared even though we weren’t,” Rhoads said. “That’s how it came across.”
It didn’t help that the Cyclones were playing short-handed on defense. Iowa State was without starters Jake Knott, Durrell Givens and Jansen Watson. McDonough also wasn’t at full strength as he played with an injury.
“We can’t say injuries are why we performed poorly in certain areas,” McDonough said. “Guys came in and did their job when they had too.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Iowa State fought back from a 10-0 deficit behind three touchdown passes from Sam Richardson. The freshman quarterback hit Jerome Tiller and Josh Lenz for second quarter scores. Before Lenz’s TD, Richardson led an impressive two-minute offense and converted a fourth down with a 21-yard scramble.
“I think (Sam) played very well,” center Tom Farniok said. “I can’t think of a time when he did something wrong.”
Richardson’s best play came in the third quarter. Trailing 20-14, Richardson threw a perfect strike into the wind to Quenton Brundrage for a 35-yard touchdown and a 21-20 lead.
Richardson finished the game 13-of-31 passing for 162 yards. He added 119 yards rushing on 18 carries and kept a number of Iowa State drives alive with timely scrambles for first downs.
The teams traded field goals after Richardson’s third TD toss, then Austin took over. On the scoring play, Smith flicked a "pass" to Austin as he was sprinting to his left. The senior went nearly untouched for the touchdown.
Still, the Cyclones nearly came back.
Aided by two personal foul penalties, Iowa State moved the ball down the Mountaineers 7-yard line. On first and goal, the Cyclones handed off to the normally reliable Woody, but this time Cook was there. The safety delivered a blow to Woody and his shoulder pad jarred the ball loose.
“It looked like someone made a nice hit on the ball,” Rhoads said. “Jeff is very conscientious as far as ball security. He wraps it up tighter than anybody. The blow was delivered right where he was carrying it and certainly got punched out.”
Despite the frustrating finish, the Cyclones are still headed to a bowl game for the second-straight season. Against one of the country’s toughest schedules, Iowa State went 6-6 to clinch a postseason berth.
“It’s outstanding for the seniors and everybody in the football programs,” Rhoads said. “The opportunity to finish with a winning record is very important to us.”
Not only is Kirby Van Der Kamp one of the best punters in the country, the kid can run too. Van Der Kamp converted another fake punt on Friday and is 4-for-4 on fakes in his career.
Facing a 4th-and-11, Paul Rhoads rolled the dice with his sneaky punter. Van Der Kamp got to snap and sprinted around right end. When he neared the first down marker, Van Der Kamp lowered his shoulder pads to move the sticks.
Unfortunately, Iowa State couldn’t turn the conversion into points. The Mountaineers deflected a fourth down pass to stop the Cyclones’ drive.
“It was a big wasted opportunity,” Rhoads said. “It was a chance for an eight point lead and it got squandered.”
Jake McDonough on finishing the season 6-6
“We are striving for bigger and better things here than 6-6. We want to become a championship football team rather than just barely squeeking into a bowl game. We want to be contenders for a championship in the Big 12.”
Jake McDonough on the future of Iowa State’s football program
“I feel as though we are right there on the verge of becoming something great. I think that the program is on the rise and it’s almost to the point of bursting into something amazing.”
– Official attendance on Friday was 53,792. The average home attendance was 55,274 this season, a new Iowa State record.
– Three field goals hit the uprights on Friday. Both West Virginia and Iowa State missed long attempts when the ball drilled the upright. In the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers took a 23-21 lead when Tyler Bitancurt’s field goal hit the left pole and careened in.
– Josh Lenz paced the Iowa State receivers with four catches for 48 yards.
– Quenton Brundrage notched 44 yards on two grabs, including his 35-yard touchdown.
– Tavon Austin tallied 83 yards rushing and 99 yards receiving, including his 75-yard scoring scamper.
– Stedman Bailey led the Mountaineers with seven catches. The receiver snared a 6-yard TD pass in the second quarter.
– Iowa State’s Gage Shaeffer recorded a career-high 13 tackles playing for the injured Durrell Givens. Shaeffer entered the game with just 10 career tackles.
– Tiller’s touchdown grab was the first of his career.
– A.J. Klein recorded a game-high 14 tackles.