ISU defensive tackle Ray Lima (76) stuffs Drake running back Drew Laurer during the Cyclones 27-24 win over the Bulldogs Saturday, Dec. 1, at Jack Trice Stadium (Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications)
AMES — The wind whipped. The rain raced sideways. The snow swirled downward, turning Jack Trice Stadium’s treasured turf into a slushy mess.
Say what you want about No. 23 Iowa State eking out a disarmingly close 27-24 win over FCS non-scholarship Drake to close the season Saturday, but let’s start with the maybe, maybe 5,000 fans who braved the elements and/or holed up in the sheltered Sukup South End Zone to watch it unfold while shivering through a state of disbelief.
“The loyalty, it’s just what they do here,” said star Cyclones receiver Hakeem Butler, who broke the single-season receiving yards mark as his team notched its eight win of the season. “I love it. I’m so appreciative of everybody that came out because it was cold, it was rainy, it was snowy. It was everything, all mixed in.”
Those last six words stood out to me.
So defining of this team, whose body of work this season in terms of regular season wins matches the program benchmark established in 2000.
So mind-jumbling, given the Bulldogs — plucky, determined and strong as they were — actually took the lead, 24-20, late in the third quarter against their faster, more athletic counterparts.
“Obviously everyone was expecting a blowout, but they’re a well-coached team and we knew that,” said linebacker Jake Hummel, who notched six tackles. “Obviously the weather kind of equalized things too.”
So, it’s worn, it’s tired and it’s sugar-coating, but, nonetheless, a win’s a win.
And officially ISU (8-4) eclipsed a crowd of 50,000 (56,738) for the school-record extending 52nd-straight time in terms of tickets sold, if not, by any stretch, actual fannies in the frozen seats.
That means something — and a special shoutout to the folks who actually put their bodies where their money was for this non-traditional and unusually stressful regular season finale.
CFTV: Catch what Matt Campbell had to say after win against the Drake Bulldogs.https://t.co/SfCZ7dP8bY
— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) December 1, 2018
“I think a fan knows — they know this was certainly a unique situation today, and I thought our kids hung in there and did what they needed to do,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. “So we’ll let our fans be the judge. We’ve got great fans. I know they support us and I appreciate that greatly and winning by margins is never what I’ve been about. But doing it the right way is certainly what we’ve been about.”
Turns out Campbell and the Cyclones haven’t cornered the market on establishing a winning culture, though.
Drake (7-4) came into this game well prepared, hungry and able to compete in terms of sheer strength, once ISU’s obvious edge in speed and athleticism had been weather-neutralized.
***The Bulldogs took a 7-0 lead after Cyclones punter Corey Dunn couldn’t handle a snap at the ISU seven-yard line. The Cyclones surrendered a first-quarter touchdown at home for the first time since Texas Tech reached pay dirt in the opening frame on Oct. 27.
***Drake turned two ISU turnovers and that muffed punt into 17 of its 24 points. The Cyclones went 0-for-3 on fourth down conversion attempts — and struggled to get any push up front on offense on any down until driving 10 plays for 67 yards and what proved to be the game-winning score — a 7-yard touchdown pass from Brock Purdy to Deshaunte Jones with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
“I don’t think there was any lack of our kids playing hard,” Campbell said. “I thought we had a great week of practice. I think our kids played really, really hard. Now detail? If we want to be critical in an area, that would be the area where I say, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if we played with great detail.’ On a surface like that, where every inch and every step matters, I think detail is the key to success. Attitude and effort, I’ve never question that from this group and I certainly didn’t today.”
The Bulldogs attended to details quite nicely — despite allowing the Cyclones to score two touchdowns off of their one turnover and botched punt.
“Quite honestly, their kids, they play with great detail and it’s what’s allowed them to have success and sustain success,” Campbell said. “Ultimately, it’s really what kept them in the game, right? They play with great detail and my hat’s off to coach (Rick Fox) and really his program. They’ve certainly got a lot to be proud of.”
So do the Cyclones — despite the numerous struggles on Saturday.
Again: “It was everything, all mixed in.”
ISU’s four losses have come by an average of 9.3 points.
But the wins? The Cyclones’ average margin of victory this season is 9.1 points.
“Well, we’ve won seven of our last eight games,” Campbell summed up after yet another grinder materialized through the fog on Saturday.
Mix everything up. Mash it together. It’s 8-4 with a program-record six Big 12 wins that counts, once the rain settles, the snow piles up.
“For us to get those eight wins is pretty cool for our entire program and this team, especially, because of the seniors,” Hummel said.
Catastrophe averted — on the field and in the W-L column.
Bowl season awaits.
And that’s something to cheer for, whether 5,000 or 50,000 plus are raising their voices.
“I don’t really know what type of impact it would have,” Butler said of the tighter-than-expected outcome and what it might mean in the eyes of bowl reps. “We have eight wins. We’ll see what happens.”
EXTENT OF SATURDAY’S INJURIES UNKNOWN
Campbell said after the game it was too soon to discern how severe injuries to starting right tackle Bryce Meeker and starting outside linebacker Marcel Spears will ultimately prove to be.
“Boy, I hope for their sake they’ll be alright, but I don’t have anything on those guys right now,” Campbell said.
Campbell added that safety Greg Eisworth didn’t play Saturday because of an injury sustained in last week’s win over Kansas State.
“I would have to imagine with a couple of weeks here that we’ll get him back to where he needs to be,” Campbell added. “The Eisworths the (D’Andre) Paynes – Enyi (Uwazurike) was held out because of the surface today. I think we just have to be smart and hopefully we can get some of those guys back to full strength.”
Butler caught four passes for 67 yards to break ISU’s all-time single-season record for receiving yards with 1,126. Lane Danielson held the top mark (1,073) since 2002.
“My name’s etched in the history books,” said Butler, who remains mum on whether he plans to go pro after his junior season or come back for one more year as a Cyclone. “Hopefully nobody ever breaks it.”
“I’m pretty sure it will happen,” Butler added with a smile. “We’ve got a bunch of talented people in there right now, but just hopefully y’all will remember me when I’m gone.”
Linebacker Willie Harvey recorded two tackles for loss Saturday, vaulting him into a tie for sixth place all-time at 30.5 … JaQuan Bailey posted a sack, pushing his career total to 17.5. He’s one sack from tying Shawn Moorhead for the school record of 18.5. … Jones caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season to give ISU it’s 27-24 winning margin. He has 10 TD grabs in his career.