AMES — Momentum can be a cruel and fickle thing.
Some teams seize it and never let go. Some grasp it for extended moments, but almost always let it slip away.
Count Iowa State’s football team, circa 2014, in the latter camp.
The Cyclones bolted to a 21-7 early second-quarter lead Saturday against West Virginia, only to free-fall 37-24 on senior day at Jack Trice Stadium.
The Mountaineers (7-5, 5-4) outscored ISU (2-9, 0-8) 30-3 over the final 41:03 and avenged a 52-44 triple-overtime loss last season in Morgantown.
“We were stalling — three and out, three and out,” said Cyclone receiver Tad Ecby, whose 29-yard touchdown catch with 11:57 left in the second quarter gave ISU its fleeting two-touchdown cushion. “We just kept trying to find a rhythm and we really just couldn’t find it today.”
Not for long, anyway.
The Cyclones firmly held momentum for about 13 minutes Saturday as they scored touchdowns in three of their first four possessions.
Senior Aaron Wimberly scored the first two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). Ecby’s big catch was set up by a fumble recovery by Kamari Cotton-Moya at the West Virginia 37-yard line. ISU’s last-gasp hope also hinged on a fumble gathered up by Dale Pierson with 2:06 remaining, but the short drive stalled at the Mountaineers’ 17.
“There wasn’t a lot of time, but I think that gave is a little bit of jump going back out there with the offense,” Pierson said. “It gave is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of drive to go down there and score.”
A little bit’s obviously not enough.
The Cyclones have held a lead of at least 14 points in four games this season. They won one of them, 37-30 over Toledo. In the other three losses, they’ve been outscored by a combined 83-3 after clutching that elusive momentum too early — and rarely late.
“Motivation is something that I wouldn’t say we lack, but it’s hard to keep it going in our locker room because we’ll have like a bad play and then we’ll turn downhill,” said receiver D’Vario Montgomery, who led ISU with 71 yards receiving, including a 39-yarder done mostly on his own. “But instead of some guys hanging their heads we should all pick each other up, like we sorta, kinda try to do. Everybody should just feed off the positive — the positive vibes that’s out there on the field.”
Plenty of that existed Saturday, but the Cyclones failed to turn sparks into fires. Trailing 27-24, ISU conjured two potential shots in the arm.
The first good vibe: Freshman receiver Allen Lazard’s juggling act that turned into a 29-yard catch flat on his back at the West Virginia 32.
“That was insane,” redshirt freshman offensive tackle Jake Campos said.
The second: Holder Austin Fischer’s five-yard run on a fake punt on fourth-and-four at the Mountaineers’ 26.
“It was time to take the calculated risk at that point to give our football team a little kick in the tail,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said.
That it did. Until it didn’t. The third quarter ended. ISU faced 3rd and 4 at the 15 to start the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Sam Richardson dropped back, threw into double coverage and was picked off in the end zone by West Virginia’s Terrell Chestnut. Momentum: Poof. The Mountaineers took a 34-24 lead two drives later.
“We’ve had a few occasions where we’ve got a momentum swing like that and really have a chance with a defense on their heels to push in and take advantage of it,” said Rhoads, whose team managed one win at home the second straight season. “Heck, who knows. the third-quarter break and losing a little bit of that juice that was attained quite possibly affected us, but in the end they played a certain coverage and dropped into it and we weren’t able to identify it and threw into it. That’s the chess game. That’s football at any level and they played that move better than us.”
Richardson finished 26 of 50 for 275 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for ISU.
Wimberly ran for 77 yards and a touchdown behind several holes drilled out by senior center Tom Farniok and senior tackle Jacob Gannon.
“Those guys, they’ve given everything for us, so to not send them out with a win is real tough,” Campos said. “But we’ll get back to it this week and try to get another one.”