ISU 42, K-State 38: One amazing comeback. One special kneel-down.

Nov 24, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Jahron McPherson (31) tackles Iowa State Cyclones running back David Montgomery (32) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Wildcats 42 to 38. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — David Montgomery took the handoff and followed his blockers, surging for nine yards.

 He took the ball again, churning up 11 more.

 Then, the junior All-American tailback rested and smiled.

 The stunning comeback that tore apart a 17-point fourth quarter deficit against bane-of-Iowa State’s-existence Kansas State was complete, but it needed to be polished off by one special teammate, standing, then kneeling, in victory formation.

Kyle Kempt gathered in the snap, did his momentous gesture, and the Cyclones’ emerged from Jack Trice Stadium with a program record-tying resurrection of a win over the Wildcats — 42-38, on Senior Night.

 “Seeing Kyle come out like that, you know, it humbles you in a big sense,” Montgomery said. “Being able to see somebody just hold on for so long and be able to contribute to the team in another way besides playing. He’s been through a lot and for him to be able to keep going like he does, it’s mesmerizing.”

 But there would be no hocus-pocus this time in the Cyclones’ annual clash with K-State.

 No picked up flags to garnish a bitter defeat. No fumbled away chances in the closing minutes to seal a coach’s fate.

 Just ear-to-ear grins, warm embraces, and more than one emphatic kneel-down — including one for Montgomery himself.

 “That’s all God,” said Montgomery, who rushed for 149 yards and three touchdowns. “It’s all God. Like I said, I’m just a vessel. I guess you don’t really think about how grateful you are until things happen. I’m not supposed to be here, but God put me in different opportunities to be here and I’m just grateful. I’m happy to be a child of God.”

 And thrilled to be a Cyclone, too.

 ISU (7-4, 6-3) set a new program record for conference wins, enhanced their postseason possibilities and banished the 10-year-long dirge of despair Coach Bill Snyder’s ‘Cats had caused the fan base to listen to again and again.

 The Cyclones revived because of Montgomery’s refusal to go down, the defense’s ability to rise up after being beaten down consistently, and a true freshman quarterback in Brock Purdy who shook off his third and fourth interceptions of the season (only one was on him) to go 7-for-8 through the air for 90 yards and a touchdown in a slam-bang fourth quarter that culminated in one of the biggest comebacks in school history.

 “Yeah, Brock’s best football game of his career today,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “Even the (first) ball he throws that gets intercepted, it’s like, ‘Holy smokes, what a throw.’ I mean, the receiver’s got to make a better play on the ball and catch it. But what you saw today from that guy, pretty powerful. Really special. Great poise. He is who he is. I think you come back from a rough performance last week and he would tell you that. And to have the character and the conviction to step in there and just keep playing is pretty special. I’m really proud of what he’s doing. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without him. We certainly wouldn’t be in a game where we were today without his performance.”

 Purdy helped spark the comeback by hitting senior Matt Eaton for a 28-yard gain. He also connected with Montgomery for an eight-yard pickup and Tarique Milton for a 30-yard jaunt keyed by Eaton’s edge block.

 Senior Sam Seonbuchner caught a three-yard touchdown pass three plays later and ISU had pulled within 10 points with 10:18 to play.

 Then the defense delivered perhaps the play of the game.

 The Cyclones had found success with the blitz, so they dialed it up on third and six on K-State’s next drive.

 Senior linebacker Willie Harvey pinned his ears back, sprinted toward Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson and jarred the ball loose.

 “I was just hoping he held the ball long enough to be honest,” Harvey said.

 He did. It fluttered into the air and true freshman middle linebacker Mike Rose snatched it, powering 21 yards to the end zone to narrow the deficit to 38-35 with 8:34 left.

 “I just hit him as hard as I could,” said Harvey, who notched both of ISU sacks. “Everybody was screaming. I see Mike Rose running with the ball and I knew he was gonna score.”

 And knew the tide had turned, too. 

 For this game.

 For this series.

 One more stop was needed — and a once-downtrodden defense delivered with guts and gusto to set up the Cyclones’ game-winning touchdown drive capped by Montgomery’s 18-yard run.

 “A perfect storm is you’ve got to make the storm,” Campbell said of the madcap ISU resurgence to make Snyder-coached teams now 181-30 all-time when leading at halftime. “You’ve gotta create the storm. And we left last week saying, I felt like a week ago we were the team that played not to lose and (Texas) was the team to play to go win a Big 12 championship. Lesson learned. So in those moments, you’ve gotta go make ‘em. You’ve gotta go make the plays if you want it. Nobody’s giving it to you and nobody feels sorry for you in this sport or in this profession, so you’ve gotta go take it and I thought what happened in the fourth quarter is our kids went and took it — maybe the first time I’ve seen that happen to be honest with you since I’ve been here. So, powerful and hopefully something we can learn from and continue to build off.”

 That starts with seniors. With Harvey and Brian Peavy; with Seonbuchner and Eaton.

 It’s embodied by Kempt, whose six-year journey has spanned three schools, epic upset wins, and now a starring role as teacher/coach.

 Once his knee tapped the ground, he’d helped make history again — and give the program’s redshirt seniors wins over every team in the Big 12, something that’s never happened for an ISU senior class.

 “Man, I don’t know if I could’ve scripted it any better to be honest with you with Kyle Kempt coming in,” Campbell said. “It was an emotional day for me because I love Kyle. I’ve said this and I’ll continue to say this, I really think the character and actions of what Kyle Kempt has stood for – it doesn’t happen in our profession, it doesn’t happen with 18-22-year-olds, but it happened here. What he did from Oklahoma a year ago to the character that he’s shown through this stretch – I don’t know if you can ever match it. What he did this year was more powerful than what he did last year because it’s humility, it’s character, it’s when everybody expects you to do one thing, you do the other thing and he stood up and did the right thing. It’s really hard to do that. For forever, he’ll go down as one of the greatest young men I’ve ever had the opportunity to coach.”


 Hakeem Butler caught five passes for 144 yards and a touchdown. He now has 1,059 receiving yards this season, tied for second-most in school history in a single season. … ISU has scored 21 or more points in the fourth quarter four times against Kansas State. All resulted in comeback wins (Saturday, 2004, 1993, 1983). … Harvey moved into ISU’s top 10 in career tackles-for-loss with 28.5. … Rose’s fumble recovery for touchdown was the Cyclones’ first since Jevohn Miller did it Oct. 18, 2014 vs. Texas. …


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.