MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Laying the foundation for 2005 became one of the themes of Iowa State's preparation for the 2004 Independence Bowl. And while the Cyclones now won't play another game for roughly eight months, they may have done just that with a dominating rushing attack Tuesday night. ISU used the ground game to pull out a 17-13 win over Miami of Ohio, the second bowl victory in school history.

Tailback Stevie Hicks and quarterback Bret Meyer – both returning to action next season – spearheaded an efficient attack in Shreveport.

Hicks ran for 159 yards and one touchdown on 27 carries to surpass the 1,000-yard marker. Meyer, meanwhile, rushed 23 times for 122 yards. They played huge roles in the Cyclones racking up 295 rushing yards on 59 carries.

Cyclone fans can only hope it's a sign of things to come.

"We put in a couple of new plays that we saw on film that would work," said the sophomore Hicks. "The offensive line was coming off the ball real well today. These were some of the biggest holes that I've seen all season. It was just a great job by our offensive line.

"It means a lot to get 1,000 yards, because that's what the tradition is at Iowa State. Anytime a running back gets 1,000 yards we usually have a pretty good season. We've just got to keep it going and take it into next year. With the running game we set the tone for last year, plus we showed we can be a balanced offense."

Meyer took home offensive MVP honors by adding 114 passing yards to his ground totals. The combination of Meyer and Hicks – the first pair of teammates to each rush for 100 yards in Independence Bowl history – proved to be too much for Terry Hoeppner's team.

"That was as good a football team as we've played, if you look at our schedule," said Hoeppner, who will now assume the head coaching duties at Indiana. "(Meyer) is going to be a great player. I'm glad he's not in the Big 10. He's a redshirt freshman that will continue to improve. He ran the ball better than I anticipated, and threw the ball well. He was probably the difference in the game tonight."

Hicks' four-yard touchdown run got the Cyclones started 11 minutes into the game, but they would need a Ryan Kock plunge into the end zone with 13:02 remaining before taking the lead for good. Senior captain Ellis Hobbs later sealed the deal with an interception in the closing minute of play.

The victory is one that head coach Dan McCarney will cherish for years. ISU made a remarkable turnaround from a 2-10 record in 2003 to win just its second postseason game in five seasons. It did so as an underdog throughout much of the year.

"It's special," said the Cyclone head coach. "We're the first team ever to win (the Independence Bowl) from the Big 12. It's only the second bowl championship in the history of Iowa State football.

"We talked about it all year since my first meeting with these guys in August – when the dust settles let's be one of the most improved teams in America. We just added to that again tonight. You can look at the season, wins, improvement, and Iowa State was clearly one of the most improved teams in college football this year."

ISU's run game wasn't a slouch throughout the turnaround in 2004, but it also wasn't near as stellar as it was on Tuesday night. The Cyclones dominated the nation's 17th-ranked run defense, chipping away with a nickel-and-dime approach that led to scoring drives of 16, eight, and seven plays.

"We ran 48 plays in the first half, and maybe we started wearing them out a little bit with our size up front," said starting offensive guard Kory Pence. "We were able to out-physical them for a little while. I think we beat them up and started running the ball a lot better. That was one of our objectives coming in."

The dominating performance provided the proper curtain calls for departing senior offensive linemen Luke Vander Sanden and Cale Stubbe. It also laid the foundation for what the Cyclone unit will attempt to become full time in 2005.

"Anytime you can go out on top with a win for the school, and to be a part of the second bowl championship is an unbelievable feeling," said Vander Sanden. "It's something that I can carry with me for the rest of my life.

"We've got a young team, but we said that mid to late season everyone is a veteran. We've got a lot of guys coming back, and we can use that as motivation. All of these young guys know what it's like to win a big game, especially a bowl championship game, and that's something they can carry with them next season."

Another fitting curtain call occurred in the final minute when Hobbs iced the Cyclone victory with an interception. With Miami setting up what could have been a game-winning drive, ISU's veteran cornerback picked off a Josh Betts pass at the Cyclone 46-yard line and returned it to the 11.

McCarney praised the work of his captain afterwards.

"It's as good as it gets," ISU's head coach said. "He's special. I've said it many times – as great a player he is and as many great plays as he makes, he's an even better young man. That's why we're winning."

Hobbs' defense overcame some costly penalties and mistakes early in the game to hold Miami of Ohio well under its season average of 32.8 points per game.

The Cyclones committed three penalties in a third-quarter drive in which the Redhawks took a 13-10 lead. DeAndre Jackson and Hobbs were whistled for pass interference calls, while Jamarr Buchanan committed a defensive holding call when Miami was set to punt.

"There weren't a lot of times they got a lot of yards against us," said the game's defensive MVP Nik Moser. "We killed ourselves with penalties at big times. It wasn't just minor stuff. We made them at crucial times, but we had confidence in our defense that we could still stop them. We stepped up and played through it."

ISU wrapped up the 2004 season with a 7-5 record, while Miami of Ohio slipped to 8-5.


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