Former Iowa State running back Jeff Woody celebrates after his touchdown sealed a 37-31 double-overtime win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State in 2011. Photo courtesy Cyclones.com
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I was able to connect with several former players who helped the Cyclones shock the college football world with a 37-31 double-overtime win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on a Friday night just before Thanksgiving in 2011. What follows is part one of Cyclone Fanatic’s oral history of that triumph.
The Jack Trice Stadium crowd roared, then descended like a crashing wave.
Players celebrated, then ducked for cover.
Iowa State running back James White smiled and shouted along with everyone else after the Cyclones had stunned the college football world with a 37-31 double-overtime win over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State on a chilly Friday night, Nov. 18, 2011 — then felt for his gloves.
They were gone.
“Somebody’s got them,” White recalled when looking back at Iowa State’s biggest win ever in terms of national exposure. “I wish I could find them. Somebody’s got them. Don’t know who.”
Doesn’t really matter much.
White scored two touchdowns and reveled in the landmark triumph fueled by a 17-point comeback in regulation that played out before a national audience in ESPN.
Iowa State entered that game with an 0-56-2 mark all-time against teams ranked in the top six. The Cowboys — then-slotted as one of the two teams destined to compete in the BCS national championship game — were tabbed as 27-point favorites. But the Cyclones had shocked the world during a fateful day and night marked by elation on one side and heartbreaking tragedy on the other.
Late the previous afternoon, Oklahoma State head women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna had died in a plane crash. The pilot and his wife were also killed.
That awful news hit Iowa State’s then-director of athletics communications, Tom Kroeschell, particularly hard.
The Cyclones had endured a tragedy on Nov. 25, 1985 when a plane carrying members of ISU’s women’s cross-country team crashed near Des Moines. Cyclone runners Sheryl Maahs, Julie Rose and Susan Baxter, along with coaches Ron Renko and Pat Moynihan, and trainer Stephanie Streit were killed, as was pilot Burton Watkins.
Kroeschell — after talks with ESPN producers early that Friday — headed to Iowa State’s cross-country course to pay tribute to those lost in both tragedies and recording stretched well into the afternoon.
“So you then were kind of going back and getting the appropriate information gathered and expressed in the appropriate way,” Kroeschell said. “That kind of took over the late morning and the early afternoon. I remember as daylight was fading that day and it was getting toward dusk — and it’s close to Thanksgiving time — and I’m out at the cross-country course with the ESPN cameramen and production crew. They’re shooting the memorial that’s on the course and getting some other shots of it and I spent most of the day going through a lot of that. There’s was going to be plenty to do that day if nothing outside of the game had happened, so there was a lot of scurrying around, but really, number one, it’s a very memorable day you won’t forget and the swing in mood and the swing in focus was part of it.”
There was even a discussion about whether the game would even be played, but since Oklahoma State was already in Ames, that decision came swiftly.
The tributes were lovingly crafted — and televised shortly before the game. Kickoff would still come around 7 p.m. No one was sure what to expect, but football would eventually serve as a tonic for one team and a bitter pill for the other.
“It’s something that you always kind of dream about, being in that prime spotlight and having such a big impact on the game,” said Cyclones receiver Darius “Money” Reynolds, who scored his team’s lone touchdown in the first half. “I feel like at the end of it all when your career’s over that everyone’s going to remember, everyone’s going to talk about it with it being that big of an upset. It’s something we can say proudly that we were a part of and nobody can ever take that from us. It’s like being in the history books, basically. It’s just something that we know as a team, we accomplished something great and it’s never going to be forgotten.”
No, it isn’t. Iowa State’s improbable win created a seismic shift in college football. Grumblings about the BCS turned into demands for a playoff, which finally came into being three seasons later.
“I felt like we had just won the Super Bowl,” said Cyclones quarterback Jared Barnett, who threw for three touchdowns and accounted for 460 yards passing and rushing. “It was an amazing feeling because we had a goal of going in and beating a team that nobody in the country ever pegged us as being able to beat. We had that goal to go in there and beat that team. Also winning in front of our crowd — huge game to win in front of our crowd — and taking advantage of that opportunity. So kind of that instant of knowing we had a goal and achieved it as an offense and a team and seeing the excitement and joy of everybody around us, that was a feeling that’s kind of one of those once in a lifetime type of feelings.”
Oklahoma State was undefeated and had scored at least 45 points while beating Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech the previous four weeks. The Cowboys were, again, 27-point favorites to clobber the Cyclones and had beaten the Bears 66-6 the week before.
Iowa State’s players and coaches, however, clung to its collective confidence. Game week had gone well. They had a good plan. They were better than the outside world thought and were determined to prove it on national television.
PAUL RHOADS (Iowa State’s head coach then and now the defensive coordinator at Arizona): “Oklahoma State came to the stadium, if I remember, on Thursday. I think that was their habit, that they went to the opposing stadium the night before the game and just did a little walkthrough and got a feel for it. Not all people do that anymore. Matter of fact I think it’s rare that people do that. I don’t know if it was an every game occurrence or because it was a big game or late in the season or it was going to be a little colder than they were used to, (OSU head coach) Mike (Gundy) just wanted to get them out and experience it a little bit. Well, it was probably a little bit colder than they wanted it to be on that Thursday night and I think it played into the psyche a little bit. As a northern team in that league, one of the first things you do is look at the schedule when it’s released and see what southern teams you have late in the season in Jack Trice Stadium and that was one game that we did and I think the cold and the weather played a little bit of an effect there and I think that started on Thursday night. But I think the air was — you could tell. You could tell that there was an impact of the tragedy on their team and their university certainly on Friday as they arrived at the stadium.”
JOHN WALTERS (the radio play by play voice of the Cyclones:) “The day was surreal. I felt so bad for the Oklahoma State people to deal with that because they had dealt with tragedies before. The other plane crash that was so horrific involving the men’s basketball program — they had been down that road multiple times and it was such a hard thing to think about that great university and all the great people there because I love the people at Okie State, they’re terrific to us when we go there. They are just great, great people and to think about them as a university and as an athletics department having to go through another horrible, horrible tragedy like that, it just broke your heart.”
REYNOLDS: “There was just something different, basically, in the air. I think we all had the confidence we could win it. I know we got behind early, but everybody stayed calm everybody stayed confident and Coach Rhoads did a great job of keeping us fired up. … Obviously we didn’t match up against them athletically according to the rankings and the records, but we knew that we could win that game.”
BARNETT: “We felt confident about our abilities and we knew that we were going to be overlooked a bit. We went into the game with the mindset that if we go out and play our game — if we go out and put all three phases together — we’re going to be able to go out there and take care of business.”
ISU LINEBACKER JAKE KNOTT: “I don’t know if it was the Friday night game or shorter week of practice or what it was exactly. We studied the crap out of them on film and I could tell right away when we got out there that it almost seemed like they weren’t as ready — and I don’t know, that could be a variety of issues (including the tragedy). So right from the start, they gave us that little glimmer that, ‘All right, we can play with these guys. We don’t need any more confidence.’ They’re No. 2 — and you’ll find that out a lot with different teams I was playing in college and in the NFL — if you actually step out on the field with people it’s a pretty even ball game. Everybody’s good.”
ISU SAFETY TER’RAN BENTON: ” It was cold, but one thing about that is you have to have that juice. J-U-I-C-E — Jacked-up Intensity Contagious Energy. For Coach Rhoads to have it — he’s good at boosting our heads up. And for LJ to have it. And for Knott and A.J. Klein to have it — those were the guys I always looked to, and I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to match their intensity, because that energy is contagious.’ I had to match up to it.”
ISU RUNNING BACK JEFF WOODY: “We had the faith that we had much more of a shot than anybody else did.”
ISU DEFENSIVE TACKLE JAKE MCDONOUGH: “I remember a great week of preparation. The first play of the game they got in a formation I recognized and I was able to cheat my alignment. As soon as the ball was snapped I knew it was going to be a good night. I was so amped up because it was a Friday night game and it was a prime time game. Even when we went down a couple scores, no one even batted an eye. The physicality we played with that night, I think we could have played against anyone. We knew up front it was going to be hard to get to the quarterback (Brandon Weeden) so getting our hands up was going to be huge. It played in our favor because as a unit I know we batted or tipped quite a few passes —a few of which lead to interceptions.”
ISU SAFETY JACQUES WASHINGTON (who grew up in Tulsa, Okla.): “They did their little circle thing around the 50-yard line. Going out there and seeing friends that I was about to compete against on a national stage, it was just cool. There were four guys from Tulsa out there that would actually contribute major playing time at a Big 12 level. That’s really one of the big things I took away pregame. It was, ‘We’re all doing it from this ‘small’ Tulsa town, to Owasso. We’re all doing it.’”
Oklahoma State took a 7-0 lead when linebacker Shaun Lewis jumped a route and ran 70 yards for a pick-six late in the first quarter. It was one of two interceptions Barnett — who had starred in a 41-7 rout of Texas Tech in Lubbock two weeks earlier — would throw that night as then-backup Steele Jantz watched from the sidelines.
Barnett shook it off and eventually would lead the charge in the comeback.
BARNETT: “It was rough sledding (early). We were doing well, but we had shot ourselves in the foot quite a bit. I had the — we’re trying to snap the ball early and throw a quick screen out to the left and just spur of the moment, their outside backer jumps out there as soon as we snap the ball and he catches it for a pick-six. We get some things like that. I think we had a dropped third down. So just some things transpired that weren’t necessarily because they made amazing things to stop us. We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot. So the message (at halftime) was, just control what you can control. Relax. Go out and play the game.”
Oklahoma State’s Quinn Sharp tacked on a 29-yard field goal to put his team up 10-0 early in the second quarter, but Barnett bounced back with a 16-yard touchdown strike to Reynolds on third and five to cut the deficit to a field goal.
The Cowboys struck again before halftime, though, when star receiver Justin Blackmon caught a 27-yard touchdown pass and Iowa State trailed 17-7 at the break.
RHOADS: “We had to climb out of that hole and if it wasn’t for everybody, that wouldn’t have been possible.”
WASHINGTON: “They scored again coming out of half (to go up 24-7). Our defense in 2011, it was a really good defense. A,J, Klein is still a captain in the NFL. Jake Knott was All-Big 12. Jeremy Reeves was a heck of a player. Leonard Johnson played five, six years in the league. Deon Broomfield got a year in. A lot of people that just believed in the craft and believed in what they did and they played like it. They freaking played like it.”
KNOTT: “Wally Burnham and Shane Burnham from the defensive side, they’re telling me, ‘OK when you’re at this point, this is what we’re seeing and when you’re spread out on a wide receiver, this is what they’re trying to go back to. And when A.J.’s out of the box, this is what,’ you know — so we kind of figured it out at a certain point that this is their game plan. As long as they didn’t make too many crazy changes and luckily us being a relative unknown to the number two team in the nation, they probably did not have every trick in their book ready to go for us. I mean, that’s one of the nice things about not being ranked in the top 10 of the nation. We knew they weren’t going to be changing up, probably didn’t come in with the most elaborate game plan possible, because they had probably slightly underestimated us.”
“So that ended up really helping us defensively and I knew hearing from Coach Rhoads at halftime, he was on the same exact wavelength of everybody else, just like, ‘Guys, we’re gonna win. We’re gonna win this game.’ And you don’t hear that very often, that sort of — he kind of just exuded that confidence and I think that (carried) to everybody else. There’s only a few games I ever remember feeling that where regardless of where we’re at, we’re gonna win this game. You can remember that as you look back at your football career, OK, there’s this game, this game and this game that were the only three that I went into for sure knowing whatever happens we’re fine. We’re gonna win it.”
WOODY: “We had moved the ball a lot. We just hadn’t converted on stuff. So that’s one of those eventually the dam’s gonna break feelings. You know you’ve been executing well enough, you’ve just kind of shot yourself in the foot a few times. But once you get over those — if you eliminate the stupid mistakes, then the rest of the good stuff keeps coming.”
WHITE: “We just never gave up. Top to bottom — from the coaching staff to the players, even the training staff. Just a total team effort.”
BENTON: “I never blamed my offense for anything, but I (was like), ‘Dang it.’ I’d be telling Barnett, ‘Dude, stop running,’ because every time he was running it looked like he was fumbling the ball. But, man, when I tell you a redshirt freshman quarterback could be throwing the ball that well and would have that much poise and composure during the game — I mean, he’s a Texas boy. You can’t take that from none of us Texans. But I really felt good, because we had a guru, number one. You had coach (Wally) Burnham. You had (late) coach Bobby Elliott. You had (the late) coach (Curtis) Bray and Burnham’s son, Shane. And on the other side, you had one for the best offensive coordinators to this day ( Tom Herman). I mean, come on man, we had everything. You’ve just got to learn that righty-tight, and left-loosey. We’ve got to make sure we’re tightening things up.”
REYNOLDS: “At the end of the day, we kind of kept getting back up anytime doubt crept in.”
ROUGH START TO THE SECOND HALF
Weeden drove the Cowboys 80 yards on eight plays in 2:27 and hit Tracy Moore — who Washington grew up playing AAU basketball with — for a 30-yard touchdown.
The score: 24-7. The mood: Relatively unchanged for the Cyclones, but fans were understandably getting nervous.
WALTERS: “Everybody was going to pay attention to that game to begin with, but then when you put it on a Friday night with no other game against it, there were so many people around the nation watching that game. Now, a lot of them probably turned it off when it was 24-7, thinking, ‘OK, Oklahoma State has this, I’m not that vested, I’m not going to stick with this thing all the way to the finish line,’ but those who did saw something incredible and a lot of people saw it because of those unique circumstances.”
BARNETT: “We knew as a team the game wasn’t over. The scoreboard was obviously not in our favor. We had a couple issues we were trying to get through in terms of turnovers and bonehead mistakes like that, so being down, we still had the mentality that if we just play our game, if we relax and do the things we know we need to do, we’ve got a great game plan going in — that if we do what we can to execute, we’re going to be fine. We’ll dig our way back in this game and that’s exactly what we did.”
KNOTT: “I knew that the offense could get rolling. I had seen them do it, at least, plenty of times and I knew they had things ready to go in the bag. I remember coming off the field one time talking to Josh Lenz and A.J. and just being like, ‘Guys, just everybody settle down. We’ll be fine. Put one up on the board, we’ll get a stop, we’ll get a turnover, whatever. Everything’s gonna be back in the place we want it at.’ It was just like one of those games, I guess — and maybe we were just so naive that it worked in our favor.”
REVIVAL, PART I
A Jarvis West kickoff return set the Cyclones up at midfield. Woody gained three yards on a third and two to extend the drive and then — following a false start penalty — White scampered 32 yards for a touchdown on second and 15 to make the score 24-14.
WHITE: “I think it was trips left. I know it was a sweep but I don’t remember the exact play call. I just remember looking out there and seeing if it was blocked correctly, I knew with my speed I would score. I just knew I couldn’t let a linebacker catch me. I’m not letting a linebacker catch me. On our team, we had NFL linebackers, so I’m battling with these guys, so I’m used to playing with big-time guys every day. So I wasn’t hesitant. I was eager to get the ball. Crazy thing about it is before that play we’d had a penalty. I just felt like as a team we knew this play was successful so we’re just anxious and ready to run the play.”
His receivers — and everyone else — blocked it well. White worked off his blocks and changed direction a bit, using his vision and speed to outrun defenders. Barnett worked his way downfield as well to offer congratulations.
WHITE: “Every time I look at that play, it just gives me chills.”
So did everyone else clad in cardinal and gold when Rhoads’ dialed up a successful onside kick that Reeves recovered. That drive ended with a Barnett fumble at the four-yard line, but the tide was still turning.
Johnson recovered a Knott-caused fumble at the Oklahoma State 26-yard line and the Cyclones settled for a Zach Guyer field goal to pull within 24-17 with 4:12 left in the third quarter.
RHOADS: “The onside kick that we recovered although we didn’t score off it, it was a huge momentum piece. Right before that kick, it was as loud as I’ve ever heard Jack Trice. It was ridiculously loud before that kickoff and we got word later, that that’s all they talked about on the (other) sideline was that the onside kick was coming and they reviewed it with that particular player. When it came, he was to signal fair catch and field the ball and it would be Cowboys’ ball. Well, he panicked and forgot to do it. We recovered it and the place erupted.”
The two teams traded punts and Johnson snared an interception from Weeden, but the offense couldn’t mount a scoring drive and punted again. But so did the Cowboys as the defense bowed up — and set the stage for the biggest touchdown of ISU receiver Albert Gary’s career.
Barnett completed seven of nine passes on a 12-play, 89-yard scoring drive. Five went to different receivers. The final one to Gary ended with a great diving catch. All of a sudden, the game was knotted up, 24-24, with 5:30 remaining in regulation.
REYNOLDS: “(Barnett) made some great throws in that game. That touchdown that he threw to Gary, I think he squeezed it between like two or three defenders. So that’s just props to him and the talent that he does have being at that younger age and he knew that the team needed him. It was senior night and we had a good amount of seniors with a lot of potential to get some looks for the NFL and he stepped in and didn’t let us down at all.”
BARNETT: “I even remember the call. It was a bootleg to the left just because we had ran so much zone read and every time I kept it I’m running straight at the defensive end. Well, this time I kept it and now I’m running wide instead of running directly at the defensive end, so he crashes down and there’s nobody there so I’m running and Albert’s running a drag across the backside. I see — it opens up in the back of the end zone — I see it opening up. But as soon as Albert gets to where I can be able to flip my hips and throw it, their backer starts creeping out. So I have to throw it a little bit lower so it doesn’t go right to him and its kind of in a little bit of gap and sure enough, Albert dove down and made that diving spin catch in the end zone. That was when I knew that as an offense and me with my receivers at that time that we were clicking because if he wasn’t prepared for that ball to go low, he probably wouldn’t have been able to go down and get that, but he probably saw the same thing I saw and that’s what allowed us to be able to be successful on that play.”
Barnett took praise for his throw in stride, though.
“If he’s not able to go down and get that that’s a terrible throw on my part,” he added with a laugh.
Barnett threw an interception with 3:17 left and a personal foul penalty helped Oklahoma State set up shop at the Cyclones’ 26-yard line. The Cowboys were already in field goal range for Sharp, who was 17 of 19 in terms of accuracy at that point of the season. His third miss would come with 1:17 left — on a 37-yarder narrowly ruled “no good.”
KNOTT: “I guess it went right over the goalpost. It could have gone either way, I suppose, but when that happened toward the end of regulation and the fact that we stopped them (from getting a touchdown after the ISU turnover). That just changed the momentum. It was a huge huge point for us — we all knew it from the scouting report that (Sharp) was pretty much automatic. So we’ve got to keep him as far away from the goalposts as possible. Even a couple yards closer, he’s got the legs and the accuracy to make pretty much anything. I think that was his first miss of the year or maybe the second? At that point, I was like, ‘Yeah, all of my feelings were validated.’ I was like, ‘This is just meant to be.’”
BENTON: “Quinn Sharp, he went to my high school. That was something that I was like, ‘Man, I cannot go back home knowing that Quinn Sharp come up here kicking our butts literally.’ … I was just like, ‘It can’t be it.’ Quinn, I watched Quinn, because we both came out the same year. I watched Quinn move from freshman to varsity after the first game. I watched Quinn Sharp kick a 99-yard punt and I have proof of that, too. I have the highlights. He kicked a 99-yard punt. Quinn, I mean, yes, I couldn’t believe he missed that. Quinn never missed. I hardly saw Quinn miss — and the boy got leg. He’s fast, too. He’s pretty fast.”
WOODY: “From our vantage point on that sideline, it looked good. It looked like it was over the upright and then you look down at the official and he’s giving the missed field goal (gesture) and you’re like, ‘Really? Cool!.”
WASHINGTON: “You’ve got to be thinking that’s game over. That dude right there wasn’t missing at that point in time in his career. I think that was either the first or second field goal that he missed and it wasn’t a routine kick by any means, but it was one that he puts in at that point in time, usually. So knowing that at that point, we know we’ve got the advantage because they’ve got everything riding. We’re a five-win team at that point. They’re the No. 2 team in the nation, so the pressure’s really on them, and I think you saw that in overtime.”
REVIVAL, PART II
White’s second touchdown to start the first overtime put the pressure squarely on Oklahoma State again. It was the first play — a 25-yard pass from Barnett on a tricky wheel route.
WHITE: “That play was kind of like one of our trick plays and that comes with being a great actor. Before the play, Kennith Pope, our running backs coach at the time, Coach Pope, he told me, he said, ‘Hey, look. Go to the ball, man. It’s going to look like a roll of tissues. It’s gonna be coming at you, man, so make sure you’ve got soft hands.’ Credit coach, he always gave a great analogy, man. Having that in my mind, I was just so ready to catch the ball and when I caught it, I don’t think I could really see anybody out there at the time and I just ran. I think a guy was trying to cut me off at an angle but I just trusted my speed.”
BARNETT: “It’s a play that we’d practiced. At the time we had what we called our “money” series, so there were a couple different plays, there was a “money,” a “cash” and I can’t remember what the other play was called. When we got in the huddle to go out on the field he says, ‘What do you guys want to run?’ Then he goes, ‘Never mind. Money.” So we were like, ‘OK. All right. We’re gonna go with ‘money.’ So it’s a play-action boot. I’m faking it to James and kind of sprinting out the same as the pass to Albert for the touchdown. We have to make sure no lineman go down field, with the pass going downfield, but they’ve really got to sell the run, because we want the backers and everybody to think they need to come down on James. As soon as he called that play we knew it was going to work. It’s a play we could have ran in our sleep. On Thursday in practice we ran that play five times just to practice it. And we had never ran it (in a game). Never.”
ISU TACKLE CARTER BYKOWSKI: “You could kind of feel them start to get on their heels a little it, like, ‘oh, shoot, this could be bad,’ because, obviously there was the tragedy and it was a Friday Night game and they were going to go out and beat us by 25 points — it’s just Iowa State type of thing. All of a sudden, almost like the Patriots in the Super Bowl against the Falcons — us (Bykowski was a member of the Falcons that year) — we start making plays and start getting more momentum and a ‘why not us’ that type of thing.”
KNOTT: “It was just one of those situations that you can only dream of. It sucks that we couldn’t put it away right then, but it gave our defense a little bit more confidence and allowed us to get more familiar, even more so, what they were going to do in the red zone as an offense. That’s what helped me, at least, on that option route Justin Blackmon ran that I got lucky on and ran under it.”
PICK + POUND = A MONUMENTAL WIN
Oklahoma State answered the Cyclones in the first overtime and started with the ball first in the second. It took one play to make an ISU win seem almost inevitable.
Weeden tried to hit Blackmon on a first down pass, but Knott got a thumb-tip on it, deflecting it into the waiting arms of Cyclones safety Ter’Ran Benton.
KNOTT: “That was all preparation. That’s Wally Burnham and Shane Burnham and Coach Rhoads, quite honestly, because we knew if they went in empty — empty package, which is what I believe they ran on that play — and they had Justin Blackmon to the short side of the field, which is what I always covered and if they put him as a slot receiver, something was up.”
“So I got kind of one of those, “Atta boys,’ at the end of it because of how I decided to kind of last second, I just told myself, ‘You know what? I know they’re going to him.’ Based on everything I’ve seen … they’re trying to (hit) Justin Blackmon. They know what our empty coverage is. They knew who was going to be covering who. They knew that a linebacker was going to be on that receiver so they put the best receiver in that slot, hoping for that matchup and they got it. So I just told myself, ‘OK, so they did that for a reason, obviously. I’m just gonna cover this guy man instead of playing a zone like we’re supposed to play.’ I could tell by his release he was going to run an option route, so whichever side I had leverage on him, he was just gonna run the opposite way. I mean, you see those in the NFL all the time. So I saw his release and normally, throughout the entire game, he would just sit it down and try to run a curl, because he knew I was protecting the inside so hard and that’s because that’s what I was taught. So instead of doing that, I just went right his back hip and said, “OK, I’m not going to give him that curl route.’”
“So he had to cut it in and I think that probably slowed it down a little bit and probably threw Weeden off just a little bit too because he wasn’t expecting him to run a dig route. So when he did that, luckily I just kept running under it. I had a broken hand at the time — a broken thumb at the time — and I hit the ball with that broken thumb that had a small little cast on it, which you can’t really tell. But that’s what kind of knocked the ball so high in the air. For once in my life, an injury actually turned out to be beneficial.”
BENTON: ” I believe it was some type of cover 5. Where I just have to play between the D-end and the nickel, which was Deon Broomfield. It depends, if the No. 2 receiver goes in, I’m going to have to focus on him, which actually, I think he went out, or Deon had a good amp on him, so as soon as that happened I kind of stopped my feet and looked to the left, because I just knew for some reason wherever Blackmon is at, they’re going to try to give him the ball. … I knew they were going to try to hurry up and score, because I’m pretty sure they thought our redshirt freshman was not going to be bale to hold up on the game. So as soon as the No. 2 receiver was jammed up by Deon Broomfield, I looked to the left and I just saw the ball. You know, because Jake Knott and A.J. Klein with coach Burnham — coach Burnham is one of the best. He is a guru, I’m saying a guru, because with those two linebackers, they are pretty much like All-Americans because they study and they follow exactly the instructions that coach Burnham give them. I saw that Knott — because one thing that Knott did was, as soon as he looked, he just felt Blackmon. He just ran towards that way. He tipped the ball. I don’t know how he did it, because, you know, Jake Knott is always, you know, he’s hurt all the time. So when he tipped the ball and you see it in the air, I just knew I’m gonna have to catch it. And I’ve been playing football since I was five. I could just hear me mom saying, ‘Get that ball.’ You know, I heard her the whole game. It’s crazy that you could hear one, individual voice. But when I caught it, Blackmon stuck me under my chin. I had a concussion that night. I had a headache for at least a good 48 hours. So when he hit me I just knew that the ball was on my chest a little bit and then my elbow went down. And the adrenaline pumped when you could hear 40,000-plus people screaming and I made the play. I was just like, ‘Oh, yeah. I got it. I got it.’”
WASHINGTON: “Jake Knott did that his whole career. Either he picked it off or he — I mean, there wasn’t a dig route that Knott wasn’t underneath. He did it early in the year against Iowa. He was always doing something in the intermediate pass game and once TB caught it, I was just like, ‘Hold on,’ because Blackmon came and smoked him. And he held onto it and I might have turned around and said something to Blackmon. Like, I know that’s ball game.”
KROESCHELL: “We still have to go out and score, but it’s like, holy mackerel — because Iowa State had never beaten a team ranked higher than seventh in its history. So it was a statistic that I was very familiar with, so immediately — you’re just scrambling, so you rip off a piece of paper and scribble on there that if we win this it would be the first time Iowa State had accomplished this feat. Now, you don’t go in the ESPN booth up there all the time. A, you’ve got your own job to do and B, they don’t need anyone hanging around. But this was pretty extraordinary and I went in and I’m glad we had (play by play announcer) Joe Tessitore on the game. First of all, he’s a great announcer. I gave him that. He looked at it. He kind of nodded at me, like ‘OK, we’ve got this.’”
WALTERS: “When Knott got the deflection and Ter’Ran Benton got the interception, you pretty much knew Iowa State was probably going to win in the game. But everybody, I think, in their mind is thinking, OK, they’re just going to give the ball to Jeff Woody, they’re going to run it maybe twice, three times and then they’re going to kick the field goal. That’s the strategy here, is just hang onto the football with two hands, Jeff Woody, give it to him because he’s your most secure ball carrier, let him churn for whatever you can get, but no greater ambition in that thought probably than just kicking the field goal and winning the thing.”
Benton had apparently seen a turnover coming. But now all ISU needed to do was score to notch the biggest win in school history.
BARNETT: “Going out on the field, TB said, ‘We’re getting the ball back.’ It’s another one of those moments where you see it in sports all the time, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.’ When he looks us in the face and says, “We’re gonna get the ball back,’ he didn’t say ‘I’m going to make an interception,’ or ‘I’m going to go down and smack somebody and (he is) going to fumble.’ He just said, ‘We’re gonna get the ball back,’ which is perfect. … Sure enough, he pulls off the interception and honestly as an offense that was no surprise to us. As soon as he made that interception. We knew exactly what we needed to do. We needed to hand it off to the workhorse a couple times and let’s get in the end zone.”
That workhorse and former walk-on, Jeff Woody, was ready. … Sort of. First, he had to process how that interception had happened. Then he could focus on what it meant for him — eventually.
WOODY: “TB, I think, was just being at the right spot at the right time. That was 100 percent Jake Knott. Because I’ve said this before in other interviews, Jake knew what was going to be run before it got run. So he saw Blackmon as the No. 3. He was supposed to, I think, carry him vertical, but he knew that Blackmon wasn’t going to go vertical, so he knew where the route was gonna go. He couldn’t match him if he tried to run the route with Justin Blackmon. Blackmon can cut and run faster than he can, so he just kind of took a rounded cut — he kind of spun his head like a centerfielder — and knew where the ball was going to end up going and at what time. So he could just use all of his athleticism to get to that point. So that was all Jake and all film study and TB was right there to capture it. I’m losing my ass celebrating on the offensive side, which was towards the South side. So I’m celebrating, partying — you’re super happy because James had been the primary ball carrier in the second half. I was in there for blocking and stuff, so what I figured was, you’re going to give it back to James, so I was celebrating and I suppose I wasn’t thinking. I was celebrating and then (assistant coach) Bill Bleil cane to find me because (offensive coordinator) Tom Herman told them to get me. I’m jumping around acting like an idiot and Bleil had to come to get me because they wanted me in there for that portion of the game for ball security.”
THE POUNDING FINISH
Woody needed all but three carries to push, pirouette and finally plow into the end zone as fans flooded the field. It seemed a perfect ending and it was.
RHOADS: “When we got the ball back and took over and Tom started calling the play and we ran it with success — they had taken the field dejected by what had just happened and we took the field with victory in reach. The proverbial snowball just started rolling and one play right after another, it was a downhill offensive run into the end zone. And I think I said it publicly before, we didn’t want to kick a field goal. We risked fumbling because of that. The trajectory of our field goals had been low that night and I didn’t want to line up the field goal and get it blocked. I told them to keep running it and we obviously ran the same play and it wasn’t just Jeff, it was 11 guys that were steamrolling and the rest is history.”
Woody’s first run went for seven yards. The second? 14. Finally, from four yards out, he punched it in behind punishing blocks from Kelechi Osemele, Hayworth Hicks, Bykowski and others.
WOODY: “KO was absolutely mauling people. If you watch the film on that again, I would encourage you to watch No. 72, because he absolutely just throws humans. So that play is designed to come out the front door meaning to the right side of the center or cut all the way back behind the tackle. With KO, it’s going to cut back usually because KO’s pushing people so hard you just cut all the way back behind the tackle. So the play’s either going to go front side to center, or backside behind the tackle. Well, KO was so amped up and so good, every one of the plays that we ran cut behind him. So I knew the first time, it just kind of happened. The second time it happened again. So the third time, it wasn’t predetermined, but based on how they were lined up it was the same as the two previous plays. Guys were pretty defeated at that point. Their stances weren’t like, ‘Let’s go. Let’s stop this.’ It was like, ‘Shoot. We’re done.’ And KO was smelling blood in the water and Hayworth was right next to them. So if either of those two guys did their job, then they’re going to end up moving someone out of the way and all I have to do is just follow big 72 and cut off his butt and I’m going to be able to push people two extra yards. So as soon as we get the snap, you just have to execute your steps and I remember seeing KO just kind of fly across my face and just kind of cutting behind him to get in while he’s just, again, mauling a defensive end. That poor D-end.”
“I remember seeing him fly across there and as soon as I turned around, then the noise hits. When you’re focused, you’re not really listening to anything. You can hear that sounds exist, but you’re not really paying attention to them because you’re too busy focusing on what you see. Once that happens, then you can hear the sound.”
BENTON: “Let me give you a side story on KO. KO, in practice, cracked my eye shield — you know, the visor? We were doing an inside play for runs and I think we were getting ready for Iowa and, you know, they’re a smashmouth, running team. KO did a pull and I met KO in the hole. I wish I would have read that wrong, because when he slammed me to the ground, his facemark cracked my visor and it cracked like it was glass. That’s not glass. And he just played on me. He’s a Texas dude, so I’ll always give credit to that, but he didn’t have to do that to me. I’m his teammate. But, Woody, Woody was a person that helped me hit people, because it didn’t matter if we were just helmets and shoulder pads or full pads, Woody was going to give it to you. And that’s one thing that I appreciate with these Iowans. I didn’t know Iowans knew how to play football, but these farm boys they’re tough — especially with these guys with their hands; their forearms are so strong and Woody, he just played. He’s a smart kid, too. Well, a smart man. … Woody was the best person to give the ball to because he could take hits, he’s gonna give you the hits and he’s just gonna keep truckin.
“The adrenaline kept going. I was just jumping. I’m jumping because I knew we were gonna win. Woody — they didn’t look like they really wanted to touch Woody. He was just bashing them. And when you have someone holding your neck and keep on punching you in your face? Eventually, you’re gonna surrender and I really think that’s what they did.”
KNOTT: “There’s not very many of these moments that really — and I don’t want to say come full circle, but one of these moments that completely validates all of your hard work and effort and sacrifice. But you could tell for him, running that ball so hard, for everything he had sacrificed, he had walked on, that it was definitely one of those moments that he wasn’t going to let slip out of his fingers. He was gonna be the guy to put it in. He wasn’t going to be stopped. You just knew after that run down to the four that we’re running this into the end zone. Our linemen are going as hard as they can possibly go and Woody’s running with his head down as hard as he can. There’s just nobody that can stop that.”
WASHINGTON: “We went out there aggressive and that O-line, with Kelechi Osemele and Hayworth Hicks — it was a good offensive line. A really undervalued offensive line and then for Woody to carry it in, an Iowa kid, I think it meant a lot for him and his legacy there. I remember just like, man, that was big-time, It was a big-time game, it was a big-time thing and obviously helped propel us to a new stratosphere as a program to what you’re kind of seeing today to where they’re expecting to win those games.”
WHITE: “I’m not going to lie, as a player you think you’re ready for whatever situation, but knowing our personnel — sometimes you’ve got to go with the right personnel in the right situation. Our coaching staff was great at doing that and me, personally, man, I feel like it was well done, to have a big power back in Jeff Woody, he did what he needed to do. Coach told him, ‘Two hands on the ball, two hands on the ball.’ If you back and look at it, he had two hands on the ball all the way through. All the way through to the end. A big back like Woody, with two hands on the ball? That’s hard to stop.”
REYNOLDS: “I was hoping to get another trick play called to try to get it in, but we all knew how hard Woody worked and we knew that he was our power back. All coach told him was keep your legs going and make sure you tuck the ball. That first play he broke I don’t know how many tackles and just after that, it’s almost like you forget that you’re blocking and just want to get excited and celebrate for him. But you have to wait for it to be over with. But after that first run and then when he got us to the four, we knew he could punch it in from there. And we had a great offensive line that year, too. I remember I jumped up twice. I’ll never forget that moment. It was a great feeling.”
MCDONOUGH: “Defensively, I felt we played our tails off and the offense started clicking at the right time. I will never forget in OT watching KO pancake two or three guys a play on the drive to win the game. Once we forced OT there was no doubt in my mind that we were winning that game.”
WALTERS: “You’re thinking, OK, even better than we thought. They give it to him again, and it’s not like there was some fancy play call. It was give it to Jeff right up the middle and he’s got two hands and every other part of his body wrapped around that football to make sure to hang onto the thing and all of a sudden he’s a whirling spinning dervish going 14 more yards down to the four-yard line. So at that point you’re like, I think I said on the air it to (Eric Heft), ‘Do you kick it right now? Do you go ahead and kick the field goal and try to win this thing?’ ‘No. One more handoff to Woody.’ Up he goes. KO (Osemele) and that offensive line opened some great holes on that drive. What an incredible way to end it.”
And then the crowd hit like a torrent. Players were surrounded. Elated, but slightly concerned. White’s gloves were taken, but that’s fine. They’re probably hanging in a Cyclone fans’ shrine to his or her favorite team.
WHITE: “It’s all good, man, because that just goes to show you that everybody was in it. It’s Friday night. Everybody’s watching. The No. 2 team in the country. And at that time, we’re trying to become bowl eligible. And we were at home, so at the end of the day, we controlled our own destiny. We couldn’t put it in someone else’s hands. We knew that if we played our game, mistakes are going to happen but it’s all about how you respond.”
And how you celebrate. I’ll have more about that next week in part two of this oral history.