Seniors say goodbye in tooth-and-nail loss to West Virginia

Iowa State’s Jake McDonough and A.J. Klein work to bring down WVU running back Shawne Alston on Friday, Nov. 23, at Jack Trice Stadium. Klein recorded a season-high 14 tackles during the Cyclones’ first-ever matchup against West Virginia.

Jake Calhoun

With an elusive seventh victory within arm’s reach, frustration fermented for the ISU football team in what should have been a fairy-tale ending to a record-breaking season.

Needing a touchdown to tie the game up with fewer than five minutes remaining, a fumble at the goal line by running back Jeff Woody proved fatal for Iowa State in its 31-24 loss to West Virginia on Friday.

“It looked like somebody made a nice hit on the ball,” said ISU coach Paul Rhoads after the game. “Jeff’s very conscientious as far as ball security. He wraps it up tighter than anybody and that blow was delivered right where he was carrying it.”

The Cyclones (6-6, 3-6 Big 12) were knocking on the doorstep of seven regular season wins and four conference wins for the first time since 2005, but an overall underachieving performance prevented it from reaching said milestones.

“It’s frustrating to finish 6-6 when you think, as a group, we feel like we could have done a lot better,” said senior nose tackle Jake McDonough. “I feel like we are striving for bigger-and-better things here rather than just finishing 6-6. We want to become a championship football team rather than just barely squeaking into a bowl game.”

The feeling on the team after the game was that of a dazed confusion, falling just short of a breakthrough season that could have opened the door for those bigger-and-better things for which it was striving.

Bruce Binkowski, executive director of the Holiday Bowl, was in attendance at the game and said a win would have had big implications for Iowa State.

“Realistically, the winner of today’s game will be on our short list,” Binkowski said before the game. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to select them, but they will be of great interest to us.”

Senior linebacker A.J. Klein impressed in his final performance at Jack Trice Stadium, tallying a season-high 14 tackles. Klein, who was the Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year last season, is now seventh in all-time tackles in school history with 342 — five away from teammate and fellow senior Jake Knott (347).

Klein was requested for post-game interviews but declined to make an appearance, as he typically does after losses.

In the first-ever meeting between the two schools, West Virginia (6-5, 3-5) snapped a five-game losing skid — its first since 1986 — with its win. The key difference-maker for the Mountaineers was senior wide receiver Tavon Austin.

En route to his six-catch, 99-yard receiving performance, Austin ran with quick stop-and-go cuts that made him difficult — almost impossible — to tackle.

“You’ve just got to read his hip and break down and make the tackle,” said nickelback Deon Broomfield. “It’s just a little bit harder with [Austin]; he’s so fast where you might break down, and he has two steps on you.”

WVU coach Dana Holgerson said after the game that Iowa State was defending Austin with “two or three people” at a time.

Even though the ISU defense had given up its share of big plays, it still managed to hold West Virginia to 475 yards — 45 yards fewer than its season average in total offense.

Iowa State is also still the only team in the Big 12 that has not given up more than 35 points this season.

“I know I don’t ever take the field thinking that the person in front of me is better,” said senior defensive tackle Cleyon Laing. “I think our whole team has that same mentality.

“They executed better than us; that’s the simple fact of it.”

As for Rhoads, whose team finished 6-6 for the third time in his four years at its helm, he could not give an answer when asked whether his team lost itself the game or West Virginia won the game.

“They made their share of plays and we made our share of plays,” Rhoads said. “Certainly, we had some mistakes, I’m sure they had some mistakes that they’d like to have back also. I don’t think there’s an answer to that question.”