Sep 25, 2021; Waco, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy (15) throws a pass in the first half of the game against the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
It came down to Brock Purdy’s fingertips.
And Andrew Mevis’s leg.
His toe, really.
Ultimately, the Cyclones lost another game of inches Saturday — in this case, 31-29 at Baylor — but not without some late fireworks accompanied by a devastating conclusion.
Purdy engineered a potential game-tying scoring drive that ended in Breece Hall’s third touchdown of the day with 24 seconds left. Purdy briefly mishandled the snap for the two-point conversion, however, and a short, ill-fated Hail Mary heave ended up in the arms of Baylor’s J.T. Woods.
Mevis’s ensuing onside kick failed and the No. 14 Cyclones painfully tumbled to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big 12 play largely because of crucial second-half miscues on special teams.
“I think that’s probably the thing that’s the toughest piece to swallow,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said on the Cyclone Radio Network’s postgame show. “(It’s) the pride you take in how our kids fought back. I think from my end of it, you’re tested by the heart of a team, by how you face adversity — and no game is going to be the same. Watching our kids respond and respond together — and you left a couple things out there. Some precision and details things. But as I told our kids, in my opinion where we were two weeks ago (after the Iowa loss) to where we are now is vastly different. If we just keep staying the course, keep correcting and keep getting better this team will have a chance to reach its full potential, and that part I’m excited about.”
Hall’s three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) made him the program’s all-time leader in the category with 40. The Cyclones outgained the Bears (4-0, 1-0) by 187 yards (469-282), but special teams breakdowns doomed them to defeat.
Baylor bolted to a 21-10 halftime lead, but it could have been far worse. ISU’s defense was wobbled, but responded in the second half and did not allow an offensive touchdown in the final 30 minutes.
“Extra effort,” defensive tackle Enyi Uwazurike said about the second-half defense. “That’s always a thing, extra effort. Really just taking that first half and trying to understand and just trying to capitalize off of it.”
The offense sprang to life in the second half, as well. Hall jetted for his second touchdown run and defensive stops set up two of Mevis’s three field goals — the last making the score 21-16 with 7:13 left.
Cue big-play Baylor return man/running back Trestan Ebner, who fielded a returnable kickoff at the Baylor 2-yard line and went 98 yards virtually untouched to the end zone to put the Bears up 28-16 with 6:59 remaining.
Purdy also saw a tipped pass turn into an interception at the Baylor 20, while punter Corey Dunn line-drived a kick to Ebner that he turned into a 41-yard return. The Bears added a short field goal a few plays later, which meant the Cyclones had to be perfect on their final drive.
They were close, but perfection, as always, proved to be elusive. Thus the loss. Thus the heartbreak. Now, to pick up the pieces.
“Again, the character (with) which we responded was awesome,” Campbell said. “And then I think you’re gonna say the same thing on special teams. There’s Mevis making some big plays for this team and some positive and then, man, it’s the killer. It’s the kick return. It’s the punt that gets blocked by air and then it’s the punt return at the end of the football game. Those are things that are debilitating when your margin for error, as I’ve always said, it’s not gonna change here at Iowa State. We have to win in the margins and today we didn’t.”
Hall rushed for a season-high 180 yards and totaled a game-high 231 all-purpose years.
Purdy went 22 for 33 for 263 yards, the touchdown to Hall and an interception.
As for inches: The tipped ball that turned into his lone interception was intended for a wide-open Charlie Kolar. Instead, it fluttered right into the midsection of Baylor linebacker Garmon Randolph.
“Bad luck play,” Hall said.
But ISU simply didn’t execute well enough in all three phases to start the Big 12 season the right way. The Cyclones can still put together a memorable season, though, and that’s rightfully what they’re focusing on now.
It’s all they’ve got. And they’re all they’ve got.
“As long as we stay the course, with this team, the leadership on this team, we’ll give ourselves a chance to reach our full potential,” Campbell reiterated. “And, man, can you stay on the road less traveled when everybody wants to knock you off it? We’ll find out.”