AMES, IOWA — There was no pounding first on the podium, no annunciated words spoken inside the Bergstrom Football Complex early Saturday evening. Those characteristics, which have become so profound, were nowhere to be found.
Instead, Paul Rhoads spoke in a slow, dejected tone, visibly deflated.
“We put ourselves in a position today to win at home and win for the seniors and win for the fans and win for this program,” Rhoads said. “They’re crushed right now. Crushed.”
Iowa State led or was tied with undefeated No. 5 Oklahoma State for 56 minutes, 54 seconds Saturday. The offense surged in the first half, the defense came up with a key takeaway in the second and the Cyclones entered the fourth quarter with a two-score lead. Then, with seven fleeting yards, Jack Trice Stadium fell silent.
Oklahoma State led for three minutes, six seconds Saturday night, and that was plenty in a 35-31 victory that halted Iowa State’s upset attempt short. In a game that drew similarities to Iowa State’s 2011 upset of this same Oklahoma State program, there was no storybook ending to be had this time around.
“I think the kids would tell you there are no fairy tales and no Cinderella and all that when it comes to this game,” Rhoads said afterward. “It’s a man’s game. It’s fast, it’s violent, it’s physical and it takes hard men to play it. That’s how they went about it. They went out to win it with that in mind. ‘Let’s get another upset.’ We don’t want upsets. We want championships. We want to get in the top half of this league. We want to get in the postseason. We want to win bowl games."
Those bowl hopes were dashed Saturday in unforgiving fashion.
Iowa State scored on its first four drives — three touchdowns and a field goal — behind 291 yards of total offense, but in a game of inches two plays made the difference.
The Cyclones settled for a field goal near the end of the first quarter only after quarterback Joel Lanning hit receiver Trever Ryen on a three-yard out for a touchdown. After review, officials determined the tip of the ball touched the ground, overturning the touchdown and sending kicker Cole Netten to the field for a field goal.
“With my naked eye I saw a ball that sure looked like it was caught,” Rhoads said. “I’m not a trained replay guy, but what I saw on the review board — the big screen — looked like a ball that was caught, or certainly hard to determine that it wasn’t, which is a big piece of replay when it’s called that way on the field.”
“From my view it looked like he had the ball. It didn’t look like it touched the ground at all,” Lanning added. “I don’t know. It’s a big game-changer, but it was a bad throw."
The Cyclones still scored later in the first half and took a 10-point lead to halftime. They took that same 10-point lead to the fourth quarter, but a second critical play did them in after Oklahoma State took its only lead with 3:06 remaining.
Facing second and two on a potential game-winning drive, Lanning connected with receiver Carson Epps on a one-yard pass into the flats. Iowa State thought it had the first down while officials marked the ball one yard short.
Running a hurry-up offense Iowa State sent in a play call for first and 10, a pass which fell short of the intended receiver and instead set up fourth and one.
“We thought we got the first down,” Rhoads said. “Regardless, we throw a ball out there and we don’t hit it. We still come back and run the same play on fourth and one that you would have ran on third and one to pick up the first down.”
The run up the middle fell short.
“They were bringing everybody off the edge and inside,” said the ball carrier, Mike Warren, who reached the 1,000-yard mark Saturday. “They just stuffed every gap.”
“Gotta execute,” Rhoads said. “You’ve gotta block, you’ve gotta run, you’ve gotta get that first down.”
Instead, Iowa State fell short.
The Cyclones watched the Cowboys convert key third downs (11-of-17) and the offense collected only 104 second-half yards and five second-half first downs.
For 56 minutes and 54 seconds, Iowa State made an upset appear possible. And with a few inches here or one play there, the latest upset may have become reality.
“That’s just how the outcome of the game went,” said Dale Pierson, who tied Iowa State’s single-season sacks record. “I believe we were playing hard through the whole game. We never let up or anything like that, it’s just little things that happen."