IOWA CITY — Cole Netten successfully cleared his head not once, but twice.
Seventy-thousand screaming fans at Kinnick Stadium along with an “icing” attempt couldn’t even generate background noise to disturb the sharp, yet serene scene Iowa State’s kicker had created in his mind.
Just a field goal.
Just another kick.
Stand still, approach the football, strike.
“Being an Iowa State fan your whole life, this is something that doesn’t seem real,” Netten said moments after his 42-yard field goal tumbled through the uprights to give the Cyclones’ a pulse-pounding, redemption-filled 20-17 triumph Saturday over arch-rival Iowa. “A dream is even pushing it, for sure. So it’s hit me a little bit but it will definitely hit me more when I get home.”
Netten’s strong leg and steely resolve cemented an ISU comeback for the ages; a last-second comeback win that closed with a dominant cardinal and gold flourish that included stirring second-half touchdown catches by E.J. Bibbs and DeVondrick Nealy.
Both were remarkable for different reasons:
- Bibbs’ one-handed scoop of a wobbly jump-pass from Sam Richardson came on fourth and inches when ISU trailed 14-3 with 6:50 left in the third quarter.
“When I saw the ball up in the air floating I was like, ‘Oh crap, I’ve got to get underneath it and catch the ball for my team,” Bibbs said.
Richardson — who completed 17-of-22 passes in the second half — also had an “oh, crap” moment.
“ I about crapped myself when I threw it,” said Richardson, who threw for 255 yards and the two touchdowns. “I threw it too short, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. He’s a great tight end and he made the big play when it was there. It was kind of a play we threw in there at the end and obviously (offensive coordinator Mark) Mangino saw a look no one else did and put it in and it was executed well.”
- Nealy’s 27-yard touchdown catch came after he’d lost two fumbles.
One occurred at the goal line before halftime.
“I knew I had to keep fighting,” said Nealy, who capped a 92-yard drive with his comeback play. “I knew my (number) was going to get called again and I knew I had to fight through it.”
Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads knew he would eventually.
“He went out and fumbled again in the second half,” said Rhoads, who beat the Hawkeyes (2-1) for the third time in the past four meetings. “But the coaches stuck with him and he stuck with himself and his teammates stuck with him and the next thing you know he’s catching a huge touchdown for us. Today, they just didn’t back off.”
Nautrally, talking about Nealy’s perseverance sent Rhoads circling back to the entire team.
Week one had brought a head-shaking 34-14 loss to North Dakota State.
Week two led to improvement, but a bitter 32-28 loss to Kansas State.
And both setbacks featured zero second-half points from ISU’s offense.
“One of the themes for the week: we couldn’t have any doubt that we could win the game,” Rhoads said. “And at halftime, down 14-3 and beating ourselves in a lot of ways, there was no hesitation. It was an intent, focused group that was ready to go out and play the next 30 minutes of the football game.”
Saturday, the Cyclones (1-2) outscored Iowa 17-3 in the second half.
They won consecutive games in Iowa City for the first time since a three-game win streak spanned 1998-2000-2002.
They restored hope — even high hopes — to a season that became mired in doubt after the 0-2 start.
“Something we can build upon,” said center Tom Farniok, who helped a once again patchwork offensive line allow zero sacks while the defensive line produced four. “Something that we desperately needed.”
The Cyclones faced down adversity, this time narrowing their eyes and gritting their teeth.
Last week’s all-around star, receiver Jarvis West, went down in the second half after officials ruled Iowa safety Jordan Lomax had targeted him.
Farniok’s line mate Daniel Burton was helped off the field with an injury in the second half, too — as were backup lineman Jacob Dunning and receiver P.J. Harris.
Rhoads was unable to offer any immediate post game updates on these players’ health.
But the next men in maintained momentum — a cresting wave of strength built, surprisingly, on the back of the play that could have caused doubt to creep in: Nealy’s goal-line fumble.
“Literally, we were just like,’ Dang, we can beat these guys,’” Farniok said of the team’s response to the bad luck endured just before halftime. “That just confirmed it in our minds. We were like, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ There was never really any doubt and that was awesome.”
Not even when Iowa converted 4-of-9 third downs in the first half along with all three fourth downs in which they chose not to punt.
Not when the injuries hit, nor when Netten’s first game-winning kick went slightly wide left.
The Hawkeyes had called timeout before what Farniok termed Netten’s “practice” kick left his foot.
And Netten said he knew the “icing” gambit was coming before he kicked it.
“After he missed the first one, he was smiling and laughing,” Farniok said. “I was like, ‘I know he’s going to make it because he’s not nervous.’ I turned around and said, ‘Hey, that’s practice. Now you get to win the game.’ He was like, ‘Yep.’ And straight through.”
In the aftermath, Netten found his girlfriend, a member of the ISU dance team.
They’re high school sweethearts, he said — veterans of game-winning kick celebrations dating back to their days at Ankeny High School.
“It’s kind of a cool thing,” Netten said.
And with that, he rejoined his jubilant teammates.
Doubt had again knocked vigorously on the Cyclones’ door Saturday, but found no takers.
“Obviously, I’m an emotional guy,” Rhoads said emotionally when describing not only what the win meant, but also what it truly signified. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the state that doesn’t understand that or realize that. Our kids play a passionate brand of football and there’s a lot of Iowa Staters that want us to be better than 1-2. But those Iowa Staters also realize how hard these kids are working and how much they’ve improved. … I’m elated for our kids.”