Iowa State’s late rally overshadowed by early mistakes in Saturday’s 20-13 loss to Iowa

 AMES — A drive-spoiling special teams mistake? Check.

Allowing a devastating defensive touchdown? Check, again.

An offense that sputtered all day until a last-minute surge? Well, you get the drift.

The litany of miscues that have doomed Iowa State to defeat in six of its last seven Cy-Hawk series games against Iowa once again served as the backdrop in the Cyclones’ 20-13 loss to the Hawkeyes Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium. 

But ISU head coach Matt Campbell didn’t express disappointment during his postgame news conference. Instead, he felt buoyed by his team’s effort. 

“It’s the best we’ve played in this football game since I’ve been here,” said Campbell, who took over the program in 2016. “And when I look out there and see (a lot of) freshmen and redshirt freshmen — man, I’ll be honest with you: Credit to them. They played a good football game and made a couple of plays that beat us at the end, but I don’t know if I could be prouder of what this team has the ability to go forward (and become).” 

That’s because despite the mistakes that led to a 20-3 deficit late in the third quarter, the Cyclones continued chipping away to give themselves a chance late in the game.ISU pulled within one score, at 20-13, on quarterback Rocco Becht’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Jayden Higgins with 2:53 left and the defense promptly forced a three-and-out.

Hope remained as the Becht-led offense took the field with 1:48 remaining, but ultimately dissipated as the Cyclones failed to reach midfield before turning the ball over on downs.  

“We definitely knew the defense was gonna get a quick stop,” said Higgins, who scored his first touchdown as a Cyclone. “So the defense did a great job today and we’ve just got to continue to pick it up.” 

Becht completed 23 of his 44 passes for 203 yards as the Cyclones (1-1) lost at home for the sixth consecutive time in the series. Cartevious Norton led ISU in rushing with 59 yards on 21 carries, but the running game — mirroring the offense in general — struggled most of the day. The Cyclones averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and 3.9 yards per play overall. Those numbers serve as a testament to both Iowa’s stout defense and ISU’s inexperience on offense, but they obviously must improve dramatically in advance of next Saturday’s 11 a.m. non-conference season finale at Ohio and the rugged Big 12 slate that follows. 

“We’re gonna let it sting, but then we’ve gotta keep it moving,” said ISU safety Beau Freyler, who led his team with 10 tackles and the game’s lone sack. “Learn from what we did this week and just keep it rolling. The energy is great in our locker room.” 

As is the unity. Becht and Freyler both tried to shoulder the blame for the loss. Becht saw an interception returned for touchdown that gave the Hawkeyes (2-0) a 17-0 lead late in the first half. ISU safety Jeremiah Cooper had intercepted Iowa quarterback Cade McNamara on the previous possession, so Becht took failing to convert on the takeaway hard.

 “I’m gonna (put) this game on me,” Becht said. “Take away that pick-six and we’re going into overtime.”

 Take away Iowa’s big 35-yard third down conversion on a pass from McNamara to Luke Lachey earlir in the second second quarter and ISU might not have been down 10-0 before Becht’s miscue. 

 “I take the blame for some of those plays,” Freyler said. “Gotta be better with my eyes and just be consistent.” 

ISU’s offense consistently moved the ball on the game’s opening possession, using 15 plays to broach the red zone. But the Cyclones stalled at the 18-yard line and Chase Contreraz’s 36-yard field goal attempt was blocked by the Hawkeyes’ Logan Lee.

Iowa, meanwhile, struck with a big play on the ensuing possession as running back Jaziun Patterson jetted 59 yards — one yard more than Iowa totaled on the ground in the Cyclones’ 10-7 win last season — to set up Hawkeye kicker Drew Stevens’s 28-yard field goal. Patterson scored on a 4-yard touchdown on Iowa’s next possession, then after the defenses traded a series of stops, Iowa’s Sebastian Castro scored the defensive touchdown that looked to give the Hawkeyes an insurmountable lead — and one that did obviously hold up despite ISU’s last-gasp rally. 

“You don’t want to get behind but that’s football,” Campbell said. “It’s gonna happen and, to me, I was almost waiting for it to happen at some point to our team and see how we responded. So that’s college football in a nutshell — get off to a good start. Ok, great, we’d love to, but it’s not always gonna happen, so how are you gonna respond when you don’t, and at least I thought we passed a huge test there today.”