Cyclones drop thriller to No. 9 Nebraska 31-30 in OT


Running back Alexander Robinson rushes the ball against the Huskers during the game on Saturday, Nov. 6 at Jack Trice Stadium. Robinson rushed for a total of 101 yards and scored one touchdown on Saturday.

Chris Cuellar

It was like the air being let out of a large balloon. 

As fans stayed in their seats at Jack Trice Stadium, the Nebraska Cornhuskers rushed the field in jubilation, winners of the 105th matchup between Iowa State and Nebraska.

“In shock,” said ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud after the game. “You play so hard for 60-plus minutes. You always expect to win. People are in the [locker room] shocked.”

ISU coach Paul Rhoads made the call after the Cyclones scored a touchdown in their series of overtime to run a fake and try to win the game on a two-point conversion. It didn’t work.

“I made the decision to go for the two-point play. I’d studied what they’d done throughout the game. It was there,” Rhoads said. “I asked [the players] to do two things today. I asked them to give it up, give every ounce of energy and effort that they could give. And they did exactly that.

“And I asked them to execute. And for 60 minutes-plus, we executed about as well as we could against the No. 9-ranked team in the country to give ourselves an opportunity to win the football game.”

After scoring a touchdown on the second series of the overtime, the Cyclones lined up for an extra-point kick that would have sent the game into another overtime. Instead, holder Daniel Kuehl picked up the snap to pass and threw an interception that ended the ball game and left fans in cardinal and gold stunned.

“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in coach Rhoads, and he has all the confidence in us,” Arnaud said. “If anyone wants to object to that play call they can, but it’s not going to help any. We’re good and we all trust coach Rhoads.”

The Cyclones (5-5, 3-3 Big 12) were down 24-10 in the fourth quarter against a run-heavy Cornhusker team, and battled back with two quick touchdowns and tough defense.

Arnaud, who had come back from being hurt in the first half, took a knee to run the clock out at the end of the fourth quarter. It was a controversial decision, as the Cyclones didn’t want to make a mistake in attempting to get more than 40 yards into the wind in 40 seconds.

“With that far to travel, against one of the nation’s top defenses that had already scored a defensive touchdown, there was too much to risk,” Rhoads said. “At that point, our kids didn’t deserve to not have the opportunity to go to overtime. I had no hesitation on that.”

Once the teams got to overtime, Nebraska wasted no time getting running back Rex Burkhead into the end zone. Starting at the 25-yard line going into the wind, the Husker running back who finished with 129 yards and two touchdowns punched it in.

Arnaud found receiver Jake Williams for his second touchdown in the Cyclones’ time for possession. After the touchdown, Iowa State lined up and went for the trick play that failed.

“We wanted to win, it just didn’t turn out that way,” said linebacker A.J. Klein. “As far as the call goes, it’s toss-up. It’s a tough call for [Rhoads]. We just have to be behind him with the decision. It was a good decision.”

After last year’s stunner that Iowa State won against the Cornhuskers in Nebraska, this game got plenty of national attention, including an ABC nationwide broadcast. While the media opportunity may put the Cyclones into the spotlight, the loss doesn’t sit well with the team.

“It’s very emotional, this program has no interest in moral victories,” Arnaud said, fighting through emotions after the game. “We come out every Saturday expecting to win, and today we didn’t. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but we’ve got to move on.”

Rhoads was fighting the same emotions after the game, upset that the execution of one play led to the loss after more than 60 minutes of football in front of 51,159 fans.

“I’ve got no problem with a grown man crying,” Rhoads said. “I’ve got a lot of grown men crying.”

The wind played a large factor in the game, heading north at an estimated 15 miles per hour. With the wind in their faces, the Cyclones failed to produce any points until overtime. With the wind at its back, the team scored 24 of its final 30, including a 57-yard field goal from kicker Grant Mahoney.

Nebraska’s starting quarterback Taylor Martinez didn’t play, changing the Cornhusker game plan. NU threw the ball just 12 times with backup Cody Green, staying on the ground and running it 52 times for 235 yards.

“We really can’t let [Martinez not playing] phase us, we just have to adjust on the run,” Klein said.

Cyclone running back Alexander Robinson gained 101 yards on the ground on 32 carries and caught four passes. But the provider of those passes, Arnaud, fought through his injury and played a complete ball game.

The senior co-captain finished 21-of-32 passing for 203 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

“In a lot of ways, I think Austen Arnaud played his best game as a Cyclone,” Rhoads said. “He managed our team, he led our team down the field. People can malign him all they want. He’s a dang good football player, and he’s an Iowa State Cyclone all the way.”

The win could have put the Cyclones in contention for the Big 12 North lead, but instead they fall back to .500 and have to work their way to a bowl bid.

“They all hurt bad,” Rhoads said.

Iowa State hits the road next week, taking on Colorado in Boulder, Colo.