Nov 25, 2023; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Abu Sama III (24) is tackled by Kansas State Wildcats safety VJ Payne (19) during the first quarter at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports
Some will rightly consider this to be the Abu Sama game.
But what Iowa State did by beating No. 19 Kansas State, 42-35, on a snowy Saturday night in Manhattan amounts to much more than that.
The Cyclones (7-5, 6-3) overcame multiple mistakes in the margins and still plowed through the Wildcats (8-4, 6-3) for their first back-to-back wins at Bill Snyder Family Stadium since the 1980s.
“Our kids never flinched,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell told FOX after the game. “They really believed.”
Sama starred throughout — totaling three touchdowns on the ground that spanned 60 yards or more — and finished with a whopping 276 yards rushing on just 16 carries.
It’s the most prolific rushing performance for anyone not named Troy Davis in Cyclone history and helped propel ISU to its fourth win over Kansas State in the past six meetings.
“He was absolutely special tonight and we don’t win that game without Abu Sama making the plays that he made his for this football team,” Campbell said on the Cyclone Radio Network after the game. “I think the future’s really bright for him.”
So bright, in fact, that fellow running backs Eli Sanders and Cartevious Norton didn’t make the trip to Manhattan.
Sama and company gave ISU plenty of big-play punch nonetheless as they struck quickly and the Wildcats responded methodically.
Kansas State erected a staggering edge in terms of time of possession, keeping the ball for 42:12 versus the Cyclones’ 17:48.
The Wildcats notched 32 first downs to ISU’s 10, but six of ISU’s first downs came on touchdowns that spanned 33 yards or greater. Cyclone redshirt freshman quarterback Rocco Becht connected with Jayden Higgins for a 33-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, then hit Jaylin Noel for an 82-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winning score with 8:04 remaining. The ISU defense did the rest, ensuring the team would record a winning season for the sixth time in the last seven years.
“Having the ability to just do, whatever happens, just do whatever it takes, I’m proud of them,” Becht said of his team in general.
Kansas State ran a jaw-dropping 102 offensive plays, but couldn’t score when it mattered most in the closing moments, as Cyclone cornerback Myles Purchase successfully defended a fourth-down throw with 48 seconds left.
ISU ran just 35 offensive plays, but averaged a head-spinning 13.9 yards per snap on that side of the ball. Kansas State owned that nearly 25-minute edge in time of possession, but still fell for the first time this season at home.
The Cyclones overcame a Sama fumble, a miscue on the punt team, as well as an ill-timed bad snap to post just their second one-score win this season — and third in the past two seasons.
Becht completed 8 of 12 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Noel had three catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. ISU notched its fourth consecutive road win of the season (its best such streak since at least 1978) and safety Beau Freyler notched a season-high 15 tackles as the Cyclones improved their bowl standing amid a snowstorm.
“This game is a hard game to win and this team has gone through hard as well as anybody all season,” Campbell said. “And I told them before we went out, ‘If this game is about going hard, I’ve got a lot of confidence in our Iowa State football team. Our kids’ resiliency, our toughness, we’ve got great leadership — and our kids keep playing, They never flinch.”