I’m Kyle Oppenhuizen, a lifelong Iowa State fan. I am documenting my journey to attend every game of the 2021 season, with plans to publish a book at the end of the season. Fan excitement at an all-time high and the ability to attend games after a season of social distancing added up to this being the perfect storm to go all-in on the 2021 season as a fan. Join me on this journey to experience every suspenseful, exciting and heartbreaking moment in this Cyclone season. Below is my recap from the Texas game. You can find more blog posts on my website, where you can also sign up for updates.
Breece Hall ran toward me. Well, at least in the direction of my seats in the southwest corner at Jack Trice Stadium.
I temporarily forgot everything else as I ecstatically joined 60,000+ fellow Iowa State fans in yelling as loud as I could. I turned to my friends around me and gave high-fives. One of them hugged me in celebration.
On Iowa State’s first possession of the second half, Hall had broken free. He zigged and zagged, making Texas defenders miss, and then ran all the way across the field to outpace defenders and sneak across the pylon on the goal line for a touchdown. It was a 47-yard run for Hall to give Iowa State the lead. After the extra point made it 10-7, “Juicy Wiggle” came on the loudspeakers and we danced. Thousands of fans shone their cell phone lights. I jumped up and down and waved mine.
I didn’t know it quite yet, but the rout was on.
As that rout was nearing its completion a while later, “S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!” chants filled the air. I joined in as the cheers rained down in a mocking fashion as the clock ticked toward 0:00 in the fourth quarter. After years of being made to believe that our team didn’t belong on the same field as mighty Texas, and months of uncertainty caused by the Longhorns’ decision to leave the conference for what they perceived to be the greener pastures of the SEC, the crowd at Jack Trice Stadium was in a celebratory mood.
Iowa State has beaten up on the Longhorns to a tune of a 27-0 second half. The final seconds were ticking away on a 30-7 win. All week, I had felt like this was the most likely scenario. The Longhorns came in at 4-4. Their fans, coaches and players expect better, and there were rumblings of turmoil within the program. Texas likely had more talent, sure, but I thought the game would come down to who wanted it more. I couldn’t imagine Texas was actually going to want it more.
The crowd had a point to prove from the get-go. We didn’t like Texas. We wanted our team to beat Texas. In what was likely the last time Texas would play at Jack Trice Stadium as a conference foe, we wanted to humiliate Texas.
The second half was like a dream. Touchdown after touchdown, defensive stop after defensive stop. The Juicy Wiggle. “S-E-C” chants. It was exactly what we wanted it to be.
As fans, we had put a lot of emotion into this game. It was circled on our calendars from the day rumors began to leak that Texas was leaving. For me, it was like a shining beacon on the horizon; no matter how good or bad Iowa State’s season had gone, I knew the first weekend in November would be an emotional standalone game.
Iowa State delivered the blow we were all hoping for.
After the 2020 game, ISU running back Breece Hall famously told the Des Moines Register’s Travis Hines that while Texas had five-star players (referring to the highest level used to measure player talent in recruiting rankings), Iowa State had a five-star culture.
Hall, who himself was a three-or-four-star recruit depending on the rating system, was talking about the team, but I think the same thing also applies to fans. I know very few Texas fans, so it’s tough for me to make a definitive judgment. My perception has always been that cheering for the Longhorns has a lot of similarities with cheering for the New York Yankees; it’s easy to cheer for a traditional winner. As Iowa State fans, we cheer for a team that has had more bad seasons than good seasons for most fans’ lifetimes, but our investment makes us appreciate the good seasons even more.
In the 2021 game, we cheered as Iowa State players ran off the field and booed as the Longhorn players sang with their band at the end of the game. I thought about how Texas was now off to the SEC, widely considered the best conference in college football, and how the Longhorns were poised to have a losing record in the Big 12 in 2021. Iowa State was competing for a spot in the conference championship game in November for the fifth year in a row. If the SEC was choosing schools based on results of the past five years (which it was not), Iowa State would be picked over Texas.
What a time to be an Iowa State fan, I thought.
If I was writing a sitcom, I don’t think I could have even tried to come up with the storyline that led off the week between Iowa State and Texas. On Halloween night six days before the game, rumors surfaced that a child was bitten by a monkey at the home of a Texas assistant coach. The story got more bizarre as more details came out about the coach’s wife. This is a family book, so I won’t get into it more than that, but a Google search of “Texas assistant coach monkey” should get you all the info you’d want if you aren’t already aware of the story.
Regardless, some fans in Ames made plans to bring monkey dolls and wear monkey masks, adding a little extra layer to the hype surrounding the game. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian was also asked about it by reporters, and he assured them it wouldn’t be a distraction for the team, which I could make the argument that by having to even answer the question it already was.
On Wednesday, word came out that a Texas player had gotten into an altercation with head coach Steve Sarkisian during practice. It seemed Texas was a little bit in disarray. If Iowa State can just take away their will early, I thought, it could be a blowout.
Saturday arrived. I began the day by texting my brother “Gameday!” and texting my friends some “horns down” gifs. It has shaped up to be about as nice of weather as anyone could ask for on a November Saturday afternoon. Highs were in the 60s and there was bright sunshine. It felt like a night and day difference from the week before in West Virginia.
We had a few extra tickets for the game, so I had invited my friend Joe to join. Joe is an Iowa State graduate who got a little more into football while watching a few games with Chris and me during the 2020 season. He was eager to go to a game with us and see us in our element. Chris, Joe and I headed up a little closer to game time than normal due to some family obligations but got there in time to enjoy an abbreviated tailgate. We met up with others in our group. Also joining us was my friend Charles’ wife, a Texas fan. We gave her a few good-natured “horns down” hand gestures.
Since we had gotten to the tailgate late, we had to park further away than normal. At around 6, we started to walk back to the car to pack up our coolers and head into the stadium for the 6:30 kickoff. We got to our seating area just as the team was taking the field. I often get to the game early enough to see the stands fill up. On Saturday, I walked into a nearly full stadium, with cellphone lights flashing and the crowd cheering. It was sensory overload in the best way.
Iowa State was wearing black helmets, jerseys and pants, a departure from what the team had announced earlier in the week. Iowa State hadn’t worn its black jerseys since the loss to Iowa. It had become somewhat of a tradition that the Cyclones would wear the black uniforms during night games at home, but they didn’t do that during the Kansas game, and I had begun to wonder if they were retired for the year. The fact that they surprised fans with it against Texas made the game feel a little more like a special occasion.
We took our seats and I surveyed the scene. I expected a packed stadium and a loud crowd. I had wondered if the loss the week before had dampened spirits at all. That thought was quickly put to rest. The fans were into it and ready to go. It reminded me of the beginning of the Iowa game. We really wanted this game. I hope the team is ready to capitalize on this emotion, I thought.
It seemed Iowa State was ready. On the third play from scrimmage, Iowa State’s Isheem Young forced a fumble from Texas’ star running back Bijan Robinson. Young recovered. “After further review,” the ruling of a fumble stood and Iowa State was in business. My pre-game hopes of Iowa State getting momentum early and destroying Texas’ will seemed attainable, especially as Iowa State drove from the 39-yard line down to the 10 in just three plays. Unfortunately, that’s where the drive stalled as the Cyclones were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Andrew Mevis. It was a good start, but it could have been so much better.
Still, Iowa State’s defense, which featured Mike Rose’s return after being held out for injury the week prior, held Texas to four straight punts, three of which were the results of three-and-out series. All it would take was for Iowa State’s offense to capitalize, and it just couldn’t quite do it.
The Cyclones’ second possession ended when quarterback Brock Purdy dove a yard short of the first down on a fourth-down play in Texas territory. Ughh. Another missed opportunity. The Cyclones punted on their third possession and then gave up a turnover after Xavier Hutchinson fumbled after a 24-yard gain. It was another one of those plays that on the stadium video board I thought was the wrong call, but after my own further review watching highlights the next day I realized was probably the correct call. After another punt a little while later, it was becoming frustrating to see Iowa State let Texas hang around when the Cyclones were outgaining the Longhorns by a lot of yards.
Unfortunately, in the middle of the second quarter, Texas put together what would end up being its only good drive of the day. The Horns completed a 24-yard pass to get things going on 3rd-and-7 and then got Robinson going with a number of consistent solid runs. After 14 plays, 78 yards and 5:38 taken off the clock, Texas took the lead with a 4-yard pass from Hudson Card to Xavier Worthy to make the score 7-3. After how much the Cyclones had seemingly controlled the game, they were now losing.
Our consternation got worse when the Cyclones were forced to punt after a three-and-out. The crowd that was so fired up at kickoff was now sitting on its hands, so to speak. The Longhorns had taken us out of the game for the time being.
What I’m about to describe is one of those things that feels so silly knowing what I know now, but losing 7-3 and watching the offense stall put both Chris and me in a negative place. We were frustrated that Iowa State couldn’t capitalize on the early turnover for a touchdown. Frustrated that the team couldn’t capitalize on the excitement of the crowd. Frustrated that the team was going to be losing at halftime.
“Why do we need to make it so hard on ourselves?” Chris asked.
As fans do, we were overreacting. As I said, it felt silly just a little while later.
At halftime, Chris went to the restroom and to buy concessions. I watched as the Cyclone Marching Band put on a video game-themed show, complete with people in Pikachu and Poké Ball costumes. My mood began to improve.
Iowa State took the ball to begin the second half. Chris still hadn’t gotten back to his seat. Hall ran for 6 yards and we let out an “Ohhh” as he just missed a much larger gain. On 3rd-and-7, Purdy found Hutchinson for 10 yards and a first down. On the next play, he threw deep for Hutchinson, who drew a pass interference penalty to bring the ball to the Texas 47. Iowa State was driving. I looked over and saw Chris near the entrance tunnel.
Hall then ripped off his 47-yard run to give Iowa State the lead at 10-7. Chris came back to his seat to celebrate after the play.
“You missed the touchdown!” someone said. “You aren’t allowed to watch anymore.”
“I saw it,” he remarked. He was lucky. “I’m going to be positive from this point on,” he let us know.
Juicy Wiggle played, and we danced. Texas got the ball and faced a 3rd-and-4. The crowd came to its feet. This felt like it could be a pivotal play to put momentum squarely on Iowa State’s side. Texas quarterback Card was chased out of the pocket and threw the ball out of bounds. I yelled for a flag for intentional grounding, and the referee must have heard me as he threw it. Iowa State had gotten the stop and forced Texas to punt from its own 12-yard line.
Iowa State got the ball back but was stopped after picking up just one first down. The Cyclones were punting from the Texas 48.
Chris, continuing on his quest to be positive, said “We’re going to down it inside the 10.”
Sure enough, the ball did bounce inside at the 5 and died right there as Greg Eisworth took control at the 4-yard line. Texas would have to begin the possession inside its own 5.
Now it felt like everyone in the stadium was on their feet. I yelled “Ohhhhhh” on first down to cheer on the defense. I kept yelling on 2nd-and-7, and 3rd-and-6 as Card was chased by Uwazurike and forced to throw the ball away. Texas was called for both holding and for having an ineligible man downfield. It didn’t matter. The Longhorns had to punt again. I could tell Chris wanted to say something, but he held back. Iowa State’s Jaylin Noel fair caught the Texas punt at the Texas 49-yard line, setting up Iowa State in great field position.
On the next play, my friend Eric pointed out that Tarique Milton was in the game. Milton had made a big catch on Iowa State’s go-ahead touchdown drive two weeks prior against Oklahoma State and had caught a bomb from Purdy the week before at West Virginia.
“Good time for a play-action pass to Tarique,” I said.
I was close.
Purdy threw the ball behind the line of scrimmage to Hutchinson, and I think we saw what was about to happen before the Texas defense did.
“OH, THEY’VE GOT HIM!” I yelled as I saw Milton streaking down the sideline. As the defenders were trying to pursue Hutchinson, he stopped and threw to a wide-open Milton. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t much juice on the ball. There was no Longhorn player close enough to even attempt to make a play. The football landed perfectly in Milton’s hands and he jogged into the endzone as we jumped around mosh pit style in the stands.
“OK I was wrong, it wasn’t play-action. But it was basically the same thing!” I yelled.
Iowa State was now up 17-7, and everyone was feeling good.
“See, this is what happens when I’m positive!” Chris exclaimed. “I just about texted myself that we were going to fumble the punt, but I didn’t.”
I thanked him.
Iowa State kicked off again to Texas, which started its next possession at the 20. We again stood on first down. The crowd sensed that the Cyclones were on the verge of blowing out the Longhorns. We roared even louder as Will McDonald picked up a sack on 3rd down, forcing Texas to punt. The crowd was in a frenzy.
Iowa State again took over at the Texas 49-yard line. Campbell likes to talk about playing complementary football, where the offense, defense and special teams work off each other. It was fitting that the Cyclones had set themselves up in great field position two possessions in a row just as Texas was reeling.
Hall immediately broke through for 21 yards, and Purdy found Charlie Kolar two plays later for 23 yards down to the 2-yard line. Hall broke through into the endzone standing up on the next play to give Iowa State a 24-7 lead. This was the outcome I had hoped for. Iowa State was dominating the once-mighty Texas Longhorns.
Chants of “S-E-C! S-E-C” formed around the stadium as thousands of people made a “horns down” symbol with their hands. We weren’t going to let them go down quietly.
Texas picked up a first down on its next possession but was forced to punt again. This time, it was downed at the Iowa State 2-yard line.
“That’s fine. We’ll just have to go 98 yards this time and kill some clock,” I remarked.
“That’s right, Kyle,” positive Chris chimed in.
The Cyclones began their drive by picking up two first downs as the third quarter ended. We stood and cheered appreciatively as the team ran from one end of the field to the other. A 17-point lead for Texas wasn’t insurmountable, but it felt like there was no way Iowa State was going to let the Longhorns back in the game.
Iowa State methodically drove down the field all the way to the Texas 12 before settling for a field goal. Mevis knocked through a 29-yard field goal to put Iowa State up 27-7.
Texas converted a couple of third-down conversions on its next drive. On the next first down, as Iowa State defensive lineman Zach Petersen got tackled by two Texas offensive linemen to draw a holding call, Robinson took a short pass of nine yards before fumbling. Iowa State’s Jake Hummel recovered to again give Iowa State the ball in great field position.
The Cyclones ran nine plays to take five minutes off the clock. Mevis ran out for a field goal attempt of 46 yards, but a false start penalty backed up Iowa State another five yards. I wondered if the Cyclones would decide to punt from the Texas 34, but Mevis and the field goal team stayed on the field. Mevis drilled a 51-yard kick to the appreciative cheers of the crowd. When it’s your night, it’s your night, I thought. (Chris later admitted he was scared Texas would somehow block the kick and return it for a touchdown, but in his final act of positivity for the game, he decided not to verbalize his thoughts.) Iowa State was up 30-7 and had outscored Texas 27-0 in the second half. More “S-E-C!” chants filled the air.
Texas ran four plays on its next possession and punted on 4th-and-8. It’s always a little extra satisfying to see the opponent make the decision to punt in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Texas had officially waved the white flag. The Cyclones returned the favor after going three-and-out with a number of backups on the field, and Texas took the ball with just 35 seconds left.
“S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-C!” we chanted as the Longhorns ran out the clock. We sang “Sweet Caroline” in celebration as Iowa State players gathered near the Cyclone Marching Band in the north endzone and Texas players gathered near their band in the southeast corner.
It was one of the more satisfying wins I could remember walking out of Jack Trice Stadium.
As we walked back to the car, the conversation turned to the future. Iowa State had three games left. Baylor had lost unexpectedly to TCU earlier in the day, further opening things up for Iowa State’s path to the conference championship game. Oklahoma, undefeated in the conference (and overall), had three games left against the other three contenders: Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma State. We started running the scenarios of what could happen if Oklahoma were to win or lose against Baylor and win or lose against Oklahoma State. The conclusion we ultimately came to was that if Iowa State could win out, it would very likely be in the championship game. The Cyclones didn’t quite control their own destiny, but it was close.
It still seemed somewhat surreal that Iowa State had not only defeated Texas for the third straight year but that it was Iowa State still playing for a conference championship while Texas was just trying to qualify for a bowl and answering questions about a monkey biting a child. The Cyclones had moved to 6-3 and were now officially bowl eligible. For most of my childhood, and most of my college years, and the first half of the 2010s, becoming bowl eligible was seen as the ultimate sign of a successful season. In 2009, after Iowa State won its sixth game of the season over a sub-.500 Colorado team at Jack Trice Stadium, some fans rushed the field in celebration of a successful season. Since Campbell started his run of success as ISU’s coach in the breakthrough 2017 season, win number six wasn’t seen as the ultimate milestone anymore.
We were still hoping for more.