Day before night: ISU players expect charged atmosphere at Iowa

Sep 3, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones wide receiver Allen Lazard (5) catches a late touchdown in front of Northern Iowa Panthers defensive back Jamison Whiting (29) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Panthers beat the Cyclones 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Shots will be poured.

Beers, chugged.

A rare, true night game looms in the Cy-Hawk rivalry.

And about the only thing that’s certain when 15-point underdog Iowa State faces No. 17 Iowa beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Kinnick Stadium is fans of all ages will be infused with equal parts adrenaline and alcohol.

“I’m definitely expecting to hear some intoxicated thoughts on Saturday night,” said the Cyclones’ star receiver, Allen Lazard, who played a big role in his team’s 20-17 upset in Iowa City two years ago. “But that’s just another thing that makes Iowa great.”

Not just Iowa — or this rivalry. College football in general thrives on the hype and reverie that a long, libation-fueled buildup to kickoff advances. It’s called “atmosphere” and this one, whether the game goes down in Ames or Iowa City, never disappoints.

“When you’re playing in these big games, you’re so focused, that stuff doesn’t even bother you,” said ISU quarterback Joel Lanning, who threw three touchdown passes along with two late interceptions in the season-opening loss to Northern Iowa. “I’ve told plenty of people that in the game you’re so focused you don’t even hear the band (and crowd). But when you watch the game on TV or whatever all you hear is the band and the crowd and all that. It’s  just crazy how you’re so focused and blur those things out.”



The allure of the unexpected?

All these things form the on-the-field framework for a zany and intense clash that has been won by the visiting team the past four seasons.

“Just like last weekend, no matter who’s favored in a game, it’s all about who shows up that week ready to play,” Lanning said. “Anything can happen in football. You’ve got to show up that day and play the game and execute the game plan the coaches give you. Just go out there and have fun.”

Forget nerves. These are moments to revel in. The last time this game was played in the evening in Iowa City — and that was a 5 p.m. kick — the Seneca Wallace-led Cyclones forged a comeback for the ages, surging to a 36-31 triumph in 2002.

Former ISU star defensive lineman Jordan Carstens remembered his coach, Dan McCarney, reading the team “the riot act” at halftime. A few locker room tables may have been overturned. The point here being that whenever the Cy-Hawk rivalry takes center stage, expectations are best tempered with a stiff drink — for fans anyway.

Favorites often fall and unlikely heroes emerge. Like Bret Culbertson drilling five field goals in the so-called “Shaggy game” to give ISU a 15-13 win in 2007 after season-opening home losses to Kent State and UNI. Like Cole Netten hitting the game-winner in 2014 after season-opening losses to North Dakota State and Kansas State.

“This is a great rivalry game and something we’re lucky to be a part of,” first-year Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said.

True for coaches. True for players. Especially true for fans, who parry back and forth, screaming within houses divided, and family’s momentarily split.

“I think the rivalry is worse between the fans then the two teams,” said Lanning, who was a redshirt freshman when Netten sent ISU home a winner two seasons ago. “The two fan bases just don’t get along at all. It’s just fun to be a part of. It’s an awesome atmosphere whether it’s here at Jack Trice (Stadium), or there at Kinnick. It’s one game that you’ll never forget.”

Especially if you’re on the winning side. Getting there depends on the usual things:

 **Turnover margin. The Cyclones are a woeful minus-three after the dispiriting loss to the Panthers. The Hawkeyes? They’re plus-three after dumping Miami of Ohio.

“One of the things I’ve always preached in terms of process is knowing how much growth happens between the first week and second week in the world of college football and we have a lot of growth to do,” Campbell said.

 **Crisp execution. ISU was whistled for nine penalties for 89 yards in last week’s loss. Big gains by standout running back Mike Warren were negated by two holding calls. A clean game will obviously be vital to the Cyclones’ hopes in week two.

“These guys are really taking it personal, because like I said before, everything we’ve been through this summer has been too much to just go out there and not play to our ability,” Warren said after rushing for just 30 yards on 12 carries.

 **Confidence. Believing is one thing. Acting upon that belief is another. ISU needs to make the plays, instead of foundering, late in order to revive a winning culture. Can that resurgence start in Iowa City? Yes, but it can’t end there, as it did in two-win 2014.

“The key is you do have to stay within yourself,” Campbell said. “It’s like every other football game: the team that takes care of the football, the team that manages throughout the football game is the team that’s going to have great success. I think our kids know that. Unfortunately, we had to learn a really valuable lesson again in that last Saturday, but a lesson that’s really valuable for us to learn going forward. I think it certainly applies to the game we’re about to take part in this Saturday.”

The big game.

The “intoxicated thoughts” game.

It’s always an adventure — from the tailgate to the 50-yard line.

“When they told me about this rivalry, I didn’t really know what to expect,” ISU safety Kamari Cotton-Moya said. “It was like, ‘Wow.’ And it’s still like, ‘Wow.’ Im excited to play in it and be a part of it.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.