Nov 26, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Jacob Park (10) throws a pass as West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Adam Shuler (88) chases from behind during the second quarter at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park shook his head.
He’d just helped the Cyclones move up and down the field on a solid West Virginia defense on Saturday, but what did that produce?
561 yards of offense.
Four Cole Netten field goals.
It’s the main reason why ISU (3-9, 2-7) crumbled late in a season-closing 49-19 setback to the No. 19 Mountaineers (9-2, 6-2) Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. The once-again turnover-prone Cyclones simply couldn’t finish. Not successfully, anyway.
“I think we’ve proven this year that we can move the ball,” said Park, who threw for a career-best 371 yards as the Cyclones saw a chance to close the season with three straight wins for the first time since 2000 evaporate in the second half. “But you can throw for 300 yards, if you don’t throw any touchdown passes it really don’t count. I ain’t got much more to say about that.”
Not much more to be said.
ISU’s plentiful examples of progress — macro and micro — in coach Matt Campbell’s first season didn’t materialize much on Saturday. The Cyclones were penalized twice after encroaching upon West Virginia’s red zone. Netten drilled field goals each time. ISU’s lone touchdown came on electric true freshman Kene Nwangwu’s 97-yard kickoff return that pulled the Cyclones within four at 14-10 with 4:56 left in the first quarter.
“What has allowed us to play well down the stretch in terms of detail and execution was really what (prevented) us from having a chance to go win the football game,” said Campbell, whose team turned it over four times across midfield. “I thought we did some really good things at times. We just were — our inconsistency, obviously you fumble the ball or turn the ball over four times inside the 50-yard line against a team like that, it’s going to really prohibit you from having great success.”
Six ISU trips inside the West Virginia 30-yard line didn’t turn into a single touchdown — although one almost did.
Short-yardage quarterback Joel Lanning came in for one play and powered five yards into the end zone for an apparent score that would have made it 21-19 midway through the second quarter.
But officials called a chop block on Julian Good-Jones, setting the Cyclones back to the 20-yard line. Three Park incompletions later, Netten was kicking his third field goal instead of the anticipated PAT.
“That was probably the biggest play of the game just because of the momentum that it had,” said ISU star receiver Allen Lazard, who become ISU’s fourth player ever to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in a season, and set a new program single-season benchmark in 100-yard games with six. “We ended up not being able to get in the end zone.”
Campbell declined to dissect the chop block call — one of several in the first half that broke West Virginia’s way.
“Those are all details,” he said. “Whether it is or it isn’t (a chop block), it’s a detail that we’ve got to be better at and we’ve got to do a great job at. You can’t blame the officials. That’s on us. We’ve got to continue to do a great job coaching our guys so that doesn’t happen or it doesn’t even give the illusion of what happened.”
The effects of that call — and others — were pronounced during a bitterly disappointing day.
Lanning, who rushed for an ISU quarterback-record five touchdowns in last week’s 66-10 drilling of Texas Tech, didn’t see the field again.
Park continued connecting on dynamic passing plays — Lazard had four catches for 103 yards, Deshaunte Jones had five grabs for 83 — but turnovers and miscues foiled every second-half trip past midfield except for the one that advanced Netten’s fourth field goal.
By then, ISU trailed 28-19 and West Virginia would answer by scoring 21 unanswered points to obliterate the Cyclones’ tenuous grip on hope in their season finale.
“It seemed like we couldn’t get out of our own way,” said Park, who lost a fumble just past midfield and also threw an interception at the Mountaineers’ 21-yard line. “I wouldn’t say that West Virginia beat us, I’d say we beat ourselves tonight, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
Moot point, of course. A loss is a loss. But Saturday’s disappointment doesn’t alter the fact that ISU improved greatly throughout another losing season. True freshman stars such as Nwangwu, David Montgomery (21 carries, 141 yards, a fumble inside the West Virginia 10), and Jones emerged. Park can sling it and Lanning can obviously shine in his run-oriented packages. There’s talent on the defensive side two, where true freshman JaQuan Bailey became a force at defensive end.
“I think that’s something that the seniors can take pride in, that we kind of started to turn things around a little bit and just got a little bit of momentum going,” sixth-year senior center Brian Bobek said. “I think now it’s up to the younger guys to take that into the offseason and work wth it and try to build on it for next year. I think that’s there and I have a lot of confidence that this program is going in the right direction and that things will work out next season and in the future. I honestly believe there will be a championship soon.”
**** LAZARD “PRICELESS”
The junior from Urbandale not only broke ISU’s single-season record for 100-yard receiving games with six, he also tied Tracy Henderson for most such games in a Cyclone career (eight). He passed Todd Blythe for third on ISU’s all-time single-season receiving chart with 1,018 yards and his 67-yard catch from Park in the first half was the Cyclones’ longest play from scrimmage all season.
“Allen Lazards don’t come every day,” Park said. “There’s a reason he’s so special. You don’t find many guys that big and that athletic and with that much hand-eye coordination. To this team and this year, he was really priceless. Im excited to have him back to.”
As for that, Lazard was once again coy when asked about his future.
“I’ve still got to find a coin first,” he said, in reference to an answer he gave about flipping one earlier this season.
Lazard smiled as he said that. Campbell certainly expects him back.
“I don’t think you can place a value on Allen,” ISU’s head coach said. “Allen’s a guy that, again, he’s got incredible ability. I think you’re just starting to see the evolution of what Allen can become in my opinion. He’s got great tools. And fighting through some health issues at times throughout the season, he just kept grinding as well and I think there’s even more to come of him to be honest with you. I think his best is yet to come. He’s certainly skilled. He’s got great ability and I’m really excited for there future of Allen Lazard because I think great things are ahead for Allen. I look forward to a great offseason of health and him kind of getting himself where he needs to get to. Like I said, I think he can be one of the best wide receivers in all of college football.”
**** NETTEN FINISHES STRONG
ISU’s all-time leading scorer closed out his career by making his final nine field goals, and 24 of his last 25.
“His attitude an day-to-day work ethic that he’s brough to the table has been (great),” Lazard said.
Netten, who ended up with 300 career points, said focusing on the now helped him succeed as a kicker.
“One of the things that I can gladly say is I gave it my all,” he said. “I can walk away having a good feeling about that.”
**** 22 SENIORS SALUTED, THEN CAMPBELL PAYS TRIBUTE TO THE FANS
Some of ISU’s seniors were emotional as they took the field for their final ISU game. Mitchell Meyers — who overcame Hodgkin’s lymphoma and started every game his senior season — said he was surprised he was not.
“It was all good,” he said of the pregame ceremony. “All smiles.”
He believes the program’s headed toward putting longer-lasting grins on fan’s faces, too.
“I just think there’s a lot of energy in the program right now,” Meyers said. “I think coach Campbell has really brought in a lot of energy and we’re just going to build off that. I’m excited to watch these guys next year.”
Campbell said he’s committed to making that product an enjoyable one to view in the not-too-distant future.
“It’s been a great ride,” he said of year one in Ames. “I love this place. I believe in it even more today than I did before I got here. I know where we’re going and, like I said, at the end of this we’re going to win a championship in the Big 12 and we’re going to figure out how to get that done. I look forward to it. The best is yet to come. I want to say this before I get off the stage, our fanbase has been incredible from the day that I got here until today. I couldn’t be more grateful and appreciative for all that they do for us and pretty soon we’ll have a football team to match their commitment to us. I’m really excited about that.”