Former ISU offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele celebrates after paving the path for Jeff Woody’s touchdown that sealed a 37-31 upset over Oklahoma State in 2011. (Photo courtesy Iowa State Athletics Communications)
Fans flooded the field. Iowa State’s players exulted. The scoreboard read: 37-31. The Cyclones had upended Oklahoma State in double overtime on a Friday night in November of 2011 and ESPN’s ace play-by-play man Joe Tessitore spoke the following fateful words: “Utter BCS chaos.”
Welcome to part two of Cyclone Fanatic’s oral history of the massive — and to some, cataclysmic — upset of Oklahoma State on Nov. 18, 2011. If you missed part one, you can read it here.
Part one centered on the mood entering the game, behind-the-scenes analyses of the plays that tipped the scales and the jubilant eruption from fans that occurred after Jeff Woody spun into the end zone to seal ISU’s biggest win on its biggest stage.
What follows in part two highlights the aftermath — both on the field and on the now-defunct BCS. The College Football Playoff came into existence three seasons later and the Cyclones’ toppling of the Cowboys on that fateful pre-Thanksgiving night is a big reason why.
“Now you’re gonna have to run down and get to the locker room, so you’re dashing down for that and of course it was an absolute melee out on the field, so we rushed and I remember ESPN, if we won the game, they wanted to be in the locker room,” recalled Tom Kroeschell, then Iowa State’s athletics director for communications. “But they ran into a problem. The handheld camera that they had was on a very, very, very long cord all the way out onto the field, so all those people are on the field and it’s like trying to vacuum your rug when there’s 20 people in your living room. People are stepping on it. You can’t gather it up. But fortunately Cyclones.tv had shot it anyways, so they had that and that was really great.”
Great for ISU — and Alabama, to be sure. The Cyclones’ upset allowed the Crimson Tide to leapfrog the Cowboys in the BCS standings and they went on to win the national title.
A well-circulated video from an Alabama-based sports bar perfectly encapsulated the elation the Tide faithful felt on that night. But ISU’s players weren’t thinking about that, of course. They were caught up in a raucous celebration on the field. The 27-point underdogs were the agents of chaos.
“If you were looking for somebody, you’d have been out there until late next morning,” star linebacker Jake Knott recalled. “You were stuck and you couldn’t move. I can’t remember the time we actually got everybody back to the locker room. That had to have taken like an hour. And there’s some guys — I think Leonard Johnson just stayed out there and enjoyed it for a while.”
It had, in a sense, been L.J.’s game. He largely bottled up Oklahoma State star Justin Blackmon. It helped make him a successful NFL player.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jared Barnett had bested then-top Heisman Trophy contender Brandon Weeden, even though his night wasn’t remotely perfect.
“I still to this day, when people ask about the game, they’re like, “You played amazing and blah, blah, blah,'” said Barnett, who had three touchdown passes, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. “From my standpoint, it was a really good game because we overcame the adversity and put it together as team in that second half. But, it was, from my standpoint, I thought it was a very poor game.
“It was definitely a lot of fun going out and everybody talks about going out in a game and putting up big numbers — and I threw this many touchdowns and I threw for this many yards and ran for this many, or this amount of total yards — but I think after the game it was my most highly- criticized game from an offensive coordinator’s standpoint as well as my standpoint. Not saying if I didn’t make all those mistakes we would have won by 30 points, but if I don’t make all those mistakes that I saw and the offensive coordinator saw, it’s definitely a different ballgame and maybe at some point in time we’re playing a little bit more ahead, maybe there isn’t overtime — whatever the case is.”
Barnett was damn good, nonetheless.
And he helped a perfect storm materialize: An Iowa State team that felt like it was better than a six-win team (though it wouldn’t win again that season), which rode its grit, moxie and determination into the proverbial sunset.
“Here you’ve got the whole country watching,” said former ISU coach Dan McCarney, who was in his first year at North Texas at the time. “It’s a Friday night game. You’ve captured the attention of the country and you just can’t play a better game. And just to showcase Cyclone football, the program that Paul Rhoads was building, the fans of Iowa State, it was an incredible finish. Just phenomenal.”
MIND BLOWN, FANS ALL AROUND
After Woody tumbled into the end zone, he was immediately hoisted up. The former walk-on from Southeast Polk — behind a punishing offensive line led by Kelechi Osemele — had dashed Oklahoma State’s hopes for a national title, but he wanted to get away from it all.
WOODY: “I just wanted to not die. I was looking up at the stadium lights after I landed on my back and then Hayworth (Hicks) kind of picked me up — or somebody picked me up. I don’t remember who it was, but somebody picked me up. And then you’re losing your mind.”
Fans continued to flood the field as what just happened — ISU’s first win ever over a top-six team — sank in. And wheels started turning in terms of the national championship picture.
OFFENSIVE TACKLE CARTER BYKOWSKI: “It was the second time that year because we had that Iowa walk off as well. The second time, ‘Oh here we go again,’ so I did my best to beeline it to the edge and get out of there as fast as I could because I’m one of those guys that I kind of get claustrophobic and don’t like all those people shoving me around, pushing me and stuff, so I did my best to avoid that. Was one of the first in the locker room and I was in there and reflecting with a Powerade or Gatorade or whatever we were drinking at that point. Just like, ‘Oh man, that just happened.’ Definitely a fun experience.”
DEFENSIVE TACKLE JAKE MCDONOUGH: “It was one of the most electric atmospheres that I’ve experienced playing at Jack Trice. The icing on the cake was being able to celebrate the win with the fans on the field.”
WIDE RECEIVER DARIUS REYNOLDS: “It’s something that you always kind of dream about, being in that prime spotlight and having such a big impact on the game. 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 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.”
VOICE OF THE CYCLONES, JOHN WALTERS: “It blew up the BCS. You’re right. I just think that the fans rushing the field — I think Joe Tessitore said it really well that night, There’s something special in the air tonight.’ He could sense it. That crowd was really into that game and I don’t know if it was Friday night and national TV and Iowa State — although their defense was really good throughout most of the game, they struggled for a good portion of that game offensively, but the crowd stayed in it. They just continued to make enough plays to give themselves a chance. And then when it all culminated in that touchdown — and the sense of relief — it was only their second lead of the game and both those leads came in overtime, that was just such a pure joy from the Cyclone fans and that team and that celebration went on for a while and it was really cool.”
SAFETY JACQUES WASHINGTON: “You’re getting slapped, you’re getting grabbed here, you’ve getting grabbed there. You’re drained physically because it’s a two overtime game. You’re looking at 100 and some snaps. So you’re drained physically, but the emotions are freaking flowing. I see my best from over there crying. I mean, (Woody) knew, you know, that was his chance and everything. And then there’s just so many people in one spot and you can’t breathe and we’re trying to get to the locker room eventually and there’s so many people and you know you can’t pass out there, because you’d get trampled or something. It was crazy. I don’t know how we even got back to the locker room to have a speech and everybody get in there and talk. But it happened. That’s what it was all about. The people in Iowa — the fans there at Iowa State — are incredible. It’s part of the reason I chose to go to Iowa State out of high school over other places. On my visit, they were like 2-7. They played Nebraska. Got smoked by Nebraska, whatever, but the place was packed. And the energy was real. It was like, yeah, we scored 10 points, but whatever. We’re out here and we’re going to support no matter what. Those fans did that my whole career. They were supportive no matter what. That’s what I really enjoyed about my whole experience at Iowa State. The support from the people of Iowa State and of Ames, it was incredible. No place like it.”
THE DAY AFTER
ESPN broadcast the upset nationally, so it didn’t sneak up on anybody. But, still, Saturday’s ESPN GameDay program underwent a significant overhaul.
“We were watching the game together because it was a game that — as you know — was shaping the championship chase,” said ESPN’s Chris Fowler, who helmed the Saturday GameDay broadcasts from 1990-2015. “Oklahoma State went up there and I think that we had known that Rhoads and that environment, that setting — Ames could be a really dangerous place. I remember Nebraska, a good Nebraska team, had fallen in there. It was a place where you walked in there not expecting the kind of fight and then once you get it, it can be a lot to handle. I remember watching that game in a conference room. We had gathered, we were eating dinner, but then all of a sudden when it became clear Oklahoma State was in a serious battle and that the championship chase was going to get reshaped, we were locked in on that and obviously we did react to it on GameDay that weekend. But I just remember watching that game and thinking, ‘Oh, boy, this is kind of what is beautiful about the sport.’ When a team that nobody gives a chance goes out and plays inspired and a team expects to win is maybe a little bit guilty of looking ahead and not putting their mind on the job — I mean, they might dispute that, but that’s the formula for an upset.”
And that’s what obviously occurred. The term “upset” took on a different meaning the next day for many of the Cyclones who played key roles in making it happen, however.
KNOTT: “It didn’t really set in. I couldn’t sleep that entire night. I stayed up and the game came on at like 3 in the morning. I didn’t go out and party. I didn’t do any of that stuff because we got home so freaking late and nobody was on campus anyway. So we’re just sitting around and I just ended up watching the whole game replay itself from like 3 in the morning to 6 in the morning. Still couldn’t believe what had happened. I think that whole next day everybody was just riding on adrenaline coming to a crash I’m sure, on Monday. … After every game, I needed help to get in the shower. It was brutal. So I was probably just laying there in agony but getting to see that game come up there — that was like three hours where nothing hurt.”
DEFENSIVE BACK TER’RAN BENTON (who corralled a key interception in the second overtime that Knott had tipped): “I can tell you that night was hard to sleep because I had a huge migraine for at least 48 hours. He (Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon) popped me. You could see my neck pop back. You could see my head pop back and all that, but for that moment, all the credit goes to, I’m gonna say my defensive line and I’m gonna say, Leonard Johnson and Knott. And (Wally) Burnham — because none of that would have ever happened if Knott didn’t change direction and hurry up with a quick reaction. … That interception was a gimme play. It wasn’t really anything I worked for other than my mechanics.”
QUARTERBACK JARED BARNETT: “After that game, all I was thinking about was how many times I had just gotten hit and my body is just absolutely killing me. So I think I slept almost that entire day the day after the game. … It was a huge moment for us and a huge victory for us. It’s why you play the game.”
WOODY: “It felt like what we were doing was just what we expected to do and the importance has been put on it by everybody else. Since then, it’s just been riding a wave of, ‘Hey man, thanks’ — because we knew what we wanted to do, we knew what we had to go and do and we just did it. So the reaction to it — all the amazingly cool stuff that we got to do and all the recognition that came from it — came from just doing your job. … It didn’t feel like you were doing something monumental at the time. It just felt like you were doing your job.”
KROESCHELL: “It was the biggest stage Iowa State football has probably been on. There have been bowl games in which Iowa State played that were about the only game on TV that day, but this game, because of its college football implications for the BCS, it drew a tremendous amount of national exposure. I remember the next morning, I was (helping coordinate) the NCAA cross-country (championships), so I was in the office early because there was a lot of stuff to still do. I went to bed — I don’t even know what time I went to bed — and I had gotten up pretty early, too. And it was still the talk of everything. And then, when I went to the NCAA Cross-Country Championships — the race was Monday and it was in Terre Haute, Indiana, and I was wearing Iowa State stuff, everywhere people, ‘Great win, State. Great win.’ You know they don’t know me. Everywhere, ‘Great win, Iowa State.’ So it was, I think it really was in my opinion, the biggest stage that Iowa State has ever played on. And one of the things about exposure and brand and all those words is you not only have to get to the big stage, then you’ve got to do it on the big stage. It’s like a singer that gets their first chance to sing at the Metropolitan Opera. Well, getting the spot is great. And putting yourself in a position to do something is great. But then you have to do really well there. And, in fact, if you don’t, then you will have actually flopped on the biggest stage. So it was an absolutely, I think, monumental victory on the biggest stage Iowa State ever had.”
Oklahoma State’s loss allowed Alabama to face LSU in an all-SEC BCS title game. The Crimson Tide, of course, won. The surreal moment when video from an Alabama bar surfaced as Woody, et al, finished off the Cowboys was an early social media flashpoint.
BYKOWSKI: “I like the playoff system now they have. I think It can evolve and get more and more precise, but it was really surreal. I think my brother was in Milwaukee when he lived there and he ended up with one tv on in there and all of a sudden by the end of the game every tv in the sports bar (and all the people) are watching the game and cheering for Iowa State because he was decked out in all Iowa State gear. They all became fans that night.”
KNOTT: “I had four guys from Alabama on the (Philadelphia) Eagles my first year and they were all so happy. I told them I was from Iowa State and they were like, ‘Aaaah, I need to take you out, man!’”
WASHINGTON (an Oklahoma native): “The next day, you’re seeing it and it’s like, ‘Show my play. Say my name on the air.’ Other than that, you’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, we just knocked the Big 12 out of the national championship (game) — and for a team that hadn’t been there forever. They had the potential to even win the national championship with that spread offense at that time that the SEC couldn’t defend. So we weren’t even thinking, man. We were just enjoying it and ready to get back to work on Sunday, really.”
WALTERS: “I think they still belonged in the national championship game. I would have loved to see what they would have done. But all these strange circumstances (were) going together on one night and it all ends with the Woody touchdown.”
ESPN’S RECE DAVIS: “I was watching at home, obviously, because I would be in studio from noon until 2 in the morning the following day and obviously it was going to be a huge part and framed the day and framed the discussion for the postseason that Mark May, Lou Holtz and I would have when talking about the implications and the debate whether that was as it should be — how much consideration was given to the fact that two teams had already played as opposed to a team that lost to an Iowa State team that was just a little above .500, as I recall. All of those types of things sort of fueled the argumentative nature of the BCS and it kind of continues on into the College Football Playoff and is kind of the fabric of college football history. I was watching from home and preparing for the day after and there was no question how huge it was and what type of implications were going on. I know this is not popular with my good friend Mike Gundy, but to me, if you think — if you had a philosophy that the regular season, by virtue of whatever your schedule is if you are in the same conference as another team and you get your shot and you don’t beat them and that’s it and nothing else matters — you have a right to think that way. If you’re talking about the teams that were the two best teams, Alabama and LSU were the two best teams. Oklahoma State — if Oklahoma State had won that game, they would have gotten to play and that would have been fine, but that’s where they would get into most deserving versus best and they would have been undefeated. So I didn’t think it was some miscarriage of justice, but I certainly understood the magnitude of what happened that Friday night in Ames. It was a seismic shift — not only for that season, but it was, as you rightly pointed out, it was at that point that people became, some of the power brokers anyway, became more open to expanding the field a little bit and that’s where we are now.”
Fast forward four years. Former ISU standout receiver Josh Lenz lands a spot on the Houston Texans practice squad. Knott, a close friend and former teammate, had planned to visit the Texans. Turns out Houston had signed Weeden to a deal to be a backup quarterback — and fate took a hand.
KNOTT: “Right after I got into Josh’s place, we went to a Mexican restaurant and he sees Weeden pull in with his truck. We grabbed him and we ate dinner and we started having a few beers. We just got into the conversation. He was like, ‘Man, I had nightmares for the longest time — like, you guys just killed me.’ He was just like, ‘I just don’t even know.’ He didn’t make an excuse or anything. He was, ‘You guys just played better, but dang I wish we could have that game back.’ He’s one of the nicest guys in the world, too. He’s got a family. I think he had a family at the time — at least he was married, I know that. He had gone back and played baseball and then went to (play football), so he was a lot older and so he had a full family and stuff so to see how that fully hit — ‘Hey, that was our one chance and you guys were just better than us that day,’ it was interesting to see it from that point of view.”
Still, Knott remained a true competitor.
“I was like, ‘Tough shit, man,’” he said, laughing.