Holbrook: Digging into the top three Cyclone football openers of this century

Members of the Iowa State Football team prepare for a play during the opening game against South Dakota State at Jack Trice Stadium on Sept. 1.

Trevor Holbrook

Hello, friends. Welcome to my inaugural weekly column centered around football, baseball, basketball or whatever other sport I feel like talking about.

As this week comes to a close, the college football season takes center stage. There are few things greater than the start of football season, and this year is no exception.

Week one represents the beauty of college football. Sometimes a top team flexes its muscles and turns in a 70-10-type of beatdown, sometimes two ranked teams battle it out until the final buzzer and sometimes a struggling but storied program proves it’s back to national prominence (until Texas lost to a 2-10 Kansas, lest we forget).

While Iowa State’s 2019 schedule features an underwhelming matchup against Northern Iowa as its opener, the Cyclones have a history of nail-biting openers since 2000.

From a Cy-Hawk opener last season to FCS losses in week one, I sifted through the last 18 openers and selected the top three games to kick off the season.

3. 2011: Iowa State over Northern Iowa, 20-19

A weird 2011 campaign began with a one-point win over the Panthers. Some may scoff at a one-point win over an FCS team, but the Cyclones have struggled against small schools in recent history and the Panthers possessed their fair share of talent — primarily current Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson.

Iowa State played pretty poorly in the win, as they lost the turnover battle, had less time of possession and gained fewer yards and first downs.

Looking at the bigger picture, the Cyclones also built off the win by knocking off Iowa a week later in a crazy shootout led by Steele Jantz. In 2011, Iowa State needed every win it could get — including the upset over then-No. 2 Oklahoma State — to get bowl eligible, so every win, even a one-point win over Northern Iowa, was of major importance.

2. 2006: Iowa State over Toledo, 45-43

Before Matt Campbell coached a game at Toledo or Iowa State, the Cyclones and Rockets collided for a helluva game to open 2006.

The game marked Dan McCarney’s last opener as an Iowa State coach, but McCarney got his money’s worth in the Thursday night game that lasted three overtimes on top of regulation.

Entering the fourth quarter with Iowa State leading 20-15, the game appeared to be setting up for a low-scoring final. Then Iowa State tacked on a field goal, the Rockets added a touchdown and a two-point conversion to knot the score at 23 and send it to overtime.

In the overtime sessions, Atlantic, Iowa native Bret Meyer caught fire, scampering for a 10-yard score, linking up with Todd Blythe for a pair of touchdowns and rushing in the game-winning two-point conversion.

The season later fizzled out on the Cyclones, but the overtime flurry remains memorable 13 years later.

1. 2002: Florida State over Iowa State, 38-31

Having No. 3 Florida State on the ropes with a chance to tie or win the game with less than 15 seconds left and Seneca Wallace playing out of his mind. What more could you ask for?

Well, I guess competent officiating or video replay, but Iowa State benefitted from neither one of those options in 2002.

While this is a sour memory in many Cyclone fans’ memories and one of the many instances of officiating errors Iowa State fans complain about, the game still had plenty of drama and greatness.

If Seneca is ruled in and Iowa State converts a two-point attempt or wins in overtime, this game goes down in the top 5 all-time games for Cyclone fans. Instead of “Seneca was in!” it’d be a highlight almost to the level of “The Run”, which occurred later in the season.

Despite the deflating loss to start the year, Iowa State still shined at points. The Cyclones rattled off six wins in a row, including wins over Iowa and Nebraska, and jumped up to No. 9. Iowa State’s season ended as it started, though: in disappointment. The Cyclones lost six of their last seven games, including the Humanitarian Bowl against Boise State.