Nov 3, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Jacob Park (10) throws a pass between Oklahoma Sooners defenders safety Ahmad Thomas (13) and linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (31) at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Jacob Park fully saw the play, the opportunity in front of him.
He trusted in it. Locked in. Then, he delivered.
The Iowa State quarterback’s flawlessly executed back-shoulder throw to Dondre Daley, kept hope alive Thursday against Big 12 juggernaut Oklahoma, resulting in a 23-yard touchdown that made the score 31-24 Sooners with 13:04 left.
Yes, the Cyclones’ upset bid against the nation’s No. 12 team ultimately fell short in a 34-24 setback at Jack Trice Stadium, but the bright ESPN-framed stage showcased how high the ceiling truly is for the strong-armed sophomore.
“You talk about that ball, I mean, my goodness, not many people are going to make that throw,” said ISU coach Matt Campbell, whose team (1-8, 0-6) has been within striking distance — or leading — late in four of its past five setbacks. “Jacob has grown immensely. I don’t know if I could be prouder of him and the work ethic he’s put into it. Quarterback’s not an easy position to play. We all know that because we’re all judged by that. Jacob, you’re talking about a young man that didn’t get spring practice, got short-changed in fall camp and has continued to positively press forward.”
Park’s well aware that he has work to do while serving as the primary passer in the quarterback rotation he shares with Joel Lanning. He needs to improve his accuracy after completing 16 of 29 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns. He must complete the throws he routinely makes in practice, especially at key moments late in games.
Case in point: Fourth and eight with just over five minutes to play.
The Cyclones trailed by 10 and Park overshot Carson Epps to allow Oklahoma to fully and safely seal it’s most narrow win in the series since 2007 (also a 10-point margin). A comeback remained a long shot, but Park lamented turning that situation to a no chance reality.
“I’ve made that throw I couldn’t even tell you how many times and that one time I didn’t make it,” Park said. “That’s the execution coach is constantly preaching and that’s what we need to do and me, personally, I take accountability for this one. I’m going to have nightmares for a while about this one.”
Park, like Lanning is hard on himself. Both created good and not-so-good moments in Thursday’s latest in a litany of near-misses.
Lanning’s 41-yard touchdown run on fourth and two late in the first half gave ISU a short-lived 17-14 lead. He attempted one pass, which fell incomplete, but he sparked the Cyclones, too.
“They were playing so low so I knew if I got kind of kind of deep there’d be no one left,” said Lanning, who led ISU with 61 rushing yards on seven carries. “I just tried to run as fast as I possibly could. If it was five yards longer, I‘m probably getting caught. Just props to everyone on that play that was blocking for me. they did the little things on that plan and sprung me.”
Ah, little things. The Cyclones failed to master those elements several times again on Thursday. It was another example of “good, but not good enough” in the overall performance ledger on both sides of the ball.
“I think it was kind of just the story of the season,” said star receiver Allen Lazard, who led the Cyclones with six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. We executed for the most part, but when it came down to it we didn’t execute when we needed to.”
Still, Park’s growth potential — along with Lanning’s — continues to excite Campbell. If Park make the throw he completed to Daley, the sky’s the limit for him in the precision passing game.
“We’re really blessed and really fortunate to have two great young men in Jacob and Joel,” Campbell said. “They help each other. They support each other and I think that’s a lot of the heartbeat of our football team. Why we don’t quit and why we have a lot of character within our walls. Those two guys are special guys.”
WHY NO MIKE WARREN?: Iowa State played without its dinged-up preseason All-American running back Mike Warren. Why? “I think Mike’s whole deal was it was a situation where I think he could’ve played, but it wasn’t right for him to play,” Campbell said of Warren, who rushed six times for 34 yards in last week’s 31-26 loss to Kansas State. “He didn’t get all those reps in practice and wasn’t 100 percent. Especially at that position, it’s not fair to put someone like that into the football to do that. Just wasn’t ready and certainly wasn’t a Michael decision. It was an educated decision by all.
TRUE FRESHMEN, FULL SPEED AHEAD: Both of ISU’s true freshmen running backs, David Montgomery and Kene Nwangwu, showed glimpses again Thursday. Montgomery, whose versatility has been on full display throughout the season, rushed 10 times for 44 yards before leaving the game with concussion-like symptoms. Nwangwu — already an explosive kick returner — ran six times for 25 yards against a defense that had allowed an average of 105.8 yards on the ground entering Thursday’s game.
“I beleive in those guys just as much as I beleive in Mike,” Park said. “I think we can win with any of them in there.”
NETTEN’S NO. 1: Placekicker Cole Netten became the leading scorer in program history in the loss, compiling six points to push his record total to 269. Jeff Shudak (1987-90) previously held the top mark with 266 career points.