Iowa State Cyclones’ running back Abu Sama (24) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown during the third quarter in the Jack Trice Legacy Game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK
AMES — Rocco Becht. Ben Brahmer. Abu Sama.
What do those three names have most in common? Becht’s a redshirt freshman starting at quarterback for Iowa State, Brahmer and Sama are true freshmen contributing at tight end and tailback — and all three made the pivotal plays on a crucial quick-strike scoring drive to fuel the Cyclones’ 27-14 win over TCU Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
“This group is courageous,” said ISU head coach Matt Campbell, whose team improved to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play before a crowd of 60,535 that assembled for the school’s first-ever Jack Trice Legacy game. “They have come in with a purpose. They have come in and it’s not always been perfect, but they demand to get better every day, and their growth has been exponential. They’ve had to step into some tough circumstances and they’ve done a great job. They’ve never flinched.”
Especially on the key scoring drive in question.
The Cyclones clung to a precarious 10-7 lead early in the third quarter when Becht triggered a two-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that ended in Sama’s 55-yard sprint to the end zone.
“There’s nothing better than doing your block and then looking down the field and going, ‘Man, there it goes,” sophomore center Jim Bonifas said. “There’s nothing better, so great feeling.”
Becht had connected with Brahmer for a 19-yard gain on the previous play, which helped loosen up the Horned Frogs’ defense and contributed to ISU’s eventual two-score advantage that would swell to a 17-point cushion before TCU (3-3, 1-2) scored its second touchdown with 1:17 left.
In short, that freshmen-led drive sparked a 17-point barrage that put the Cyclones ahead, 27-7, with 11:27 remaining in the game.
ISU rushed for 215 yards — its highest total against a conference foe since gaining 279 yards in a 48-14 win over the Horned Frogs on Nov. 26, 2021. Sophomore Eli Sanders led the way with 99 yards on 16 carries. He also scored the first touchdown of the game.
“That makes it a lot easier because I think we had more rushing yards than passing yards,” said Becht, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown to senior tight end Easton Dean. “So it was an easy night for me and I’m happy for the team, so if we could do that every week, that would be awesome.”
It’s also impossible, but the Cyclones’ recent resurrection of their long-moribund running game should bode well for the second half of the season, which swings into view next Saturday at Cincinnati (2-3, 0-2).
ISU also rose up for four interceptions from four different players against TCU — its most prolific performance in that regard since trouncing San Jose State, 44-10, in 2016.
“I think this group has grown every week,” Campbell said. “It continues to grow and the great teams in college football, you can’t declare them in September. And you sure can’t declare them halfway through October, but they’ll show up at the end of October and (during) November, and they’re the ones that keep getting better; that get better week in and week out. The one nice thing we have, (is) we’ve got a great group of seniors that it’s really meaningful and important, and we’ve got a lot of young guys that have a great spirit about who they are and who they want to become.”
That would be consistent winners for the first time in three seasons. The road ahead won’t be easy, but after finally “winning in the margins” with gusto for the first time in recent memory, future games don’t look like potentially mammoth stumbling blocks. They’re back to merely — and happily — serving as opportunities. The Cyclones rebounded from a 50-20 loss at No. 12 Oklahoma this week, so resilience is already part of their repertoire. Sprinkle in the courage that Campbell mentioned and ISU’s path forward is finally coming into sharp focus in terms of the possibilities.
“It’s just staying the course, staying consistent, and staying in the process,” Becht said. “We did that this week in practice. Nobody bowed their heads. Nobody looks back. We just studied the game plan, studied TCU, and we came into this game acting like we were 0-0. That’s what we’re gonna do every week.”