Nov 16, 2019; Ames, Iowa: Iowa State kicker Connor Assalley is congratulated after making the 36-yard field goal that beat Texas, 23-21, as time expired at Jack Trice Stadium. (Photo by Jacqueline Cordova)
AMES — Iowa State long snapper Steve Wirtel sat in the back of the room.
As media conducted interviews of more prominent players after the Cyclones’ stirring walk-off 23-21 win over No. 19 Texas, he’d been summoned to answer questions, as well — and for good reason.
Wirtel’s adroitness as a long snapper proved pivotal in ISU’s first win over the Longhorns in the coach Matt Campbell area — and not just on kicker Connor Assalley’s successful 36-yard boot as time expired.
Wirtel’s skill actually made Assalley’s heroics possible.
Moments earlier, the Cyclones’ long-distance field goal kicker, Brayden Narveson, lined up for a possible 42-yard game winner.
His kick veered wide right, but Wirtel had duped the Longhorns into jumping offsides on the fourth-and-five play.
First and ten, Cyclones, at the Texas 25 — and the Longhorns were out of timeouts.
“I think that’s the craftsmanship of (Steve) Wirtel, honestly, and, again, those are things we work on and we practice and Steve’s one of the best in the country, so to not snap the ball on the ready — and have the discipline to do that with our guys right away, that was big,” Campbell said after ISU improved to 6-4, 4-3. “I thought Steve was outstanding.”
The craftsman did indeed prove to be “crafty.” Wirtel didn’t rely on a hard count. He watched the Texas players assemble at the line of scrimmage. He saw one jump. Then he snapped the ball, hoping for the correct call to come.
“It was really just a split second,” Wirtel said. “I kind of saw the white color kind of cross the line and snapped it. Then I saw one of our guys, I don’t know who it was, kind of engage, too … It was just such a bang-bang play and then to have the first down there was huge and we were able to just run it down.”
Despite Narveson’s miss on the same play, the Cyclones played for the shot at the game-winning field goal.
Since the kick would be inside of 40 yards, Assalley figured his name would be called. It was and he nailed it, after Wirtel’s spot-on snap and Blake Clark’s perfect hold.
“That was awesome, because that was actually one thing in my time here I had never been a part of,” Wirtel said. “You see them all the time in different games and to have that one, in that moment — kind of with five minutes left in the game, I kind of thought it through in my head: ‘One time it’s going to come down to us.’ I’m just happy Connor was able to get that opportunity.”
And they all delivered.
Campbell said Wirtel’s deft snap that provoked the penalty was all about rhythm: recognizing how the opponent tried to time it, then delaying it until he felt they could be caught trying to jump it.
“These guys have blocked four field goals, I think, so far this season and have actually won games doing that, so we really worked on not being rhythmic, especially in critical moments,” Campbell said. “We talked about that a little bit right before those guys went out.”
That “little bit” turned into a huge win. Campbell is now the first coach in ISU history to beat every other school in the conference. He’s done it in less than four fun seasons. He’s done it because his players didn’t let past failures cloud present and future opportunities.
“We love each other, so to us, it’s more than win-loss,” Assalley said. “Now we’re just trying to make a bowl game so we can spend another month together. That’s really all that matters to us.”
ALONG CAME JONES …
Deshaunte Jones recorded his 12th career touchdown catch on a 75-yard scramble and heave by quarterback Brock Purdy early in the third quarter to move up to ninth on the program’s all-time chart. It was also ISU’s longest play from scrimmage this season — and happened because Purdy eluded a stout Texas pass rush.
Jones needed to be patient on the catch and run that put the Cyclones up 20-7 at the time, which is difficult to do when a beaten defender is sprinting back to try to contest the play.
“The ball was really in the air forever, but those are the ones you really drop,” said Jones, whose 144 receiving yards against Texas are the most in a single game for a Cyclone receiver vs. the Longhorns in program history. “So I was just trying to stay focused on just catching the ball. I didn’t really know how far away the defender was. I knew I was far enough that I could catch the ball and run away and that’s what I did.”
Jones said he has no idea how Purdy escaped the pressure, but gleaned a better understanding when watching footage on his phone after the win.
“I saw him escape,” Jones said. ‘But I just looked at my phone and saw the way that he did and, man, that’s incredible for him to even do that. I think he had like three guys in his face when he rolled out and luckily he saw me and just threw it as far as he could. He made a great play.”
“I was on my knees when it happened. I was just praying it went in, but Connor, he’s been doing a really good job. I see it at practice, putting in extra work, so I had faith in him, believed in him and he just did it. I was ecstatic, man.” — ISU safety Lawrence White, who had a team-best 10 tackles and a sack.