Cyclones finally solve Colorado riddle

Zac Reicks

It was a tale of two halves Saturday when Iowa State faced Colorado, and fortunately for the Cyclones, they picked the right half to come out on top.

After barely surviving a sloppily played first half, the Cyclone defense and special teams came up big in the second half as they defeated the Buffaloes 35-27 at snow-covered Folsom Field Saturday.

ISU quarterback Sage Rosenfels ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns and also threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to lead the cardinal and gold. Carl Gomez added three field goals for the Cyclones (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) who ended a 16-game losing streak against the Buffaloes.

“I can’t say enough about the resolve, substance and fiber of this team,” said ISU head coach Dan McCarney. “I am so happy for a lot of people, but especially the seniors.”

With Colorado hosting its coldest day game ever at 19 degrees, the Buffs jumped to an early 13-3 lead on a pair of 7-yard touchdown runs by tailback Cortlen Johnson.

Johnson finished the game with 73 yards on 17 carries for the Buffaloes (3-7, 3-4 Big 12). Last season, Johnson burned the ‘Clones for 185 yards on 31 carries.

The Cyclones cut the gap to 13-9 on a short touchdown run by Ennis Haywood but a botched extra point kept the Cyclone deficit at four points. The deficit stayed at four points until Johnson added his third rushing touchdown of the day on a 16-yard touchdown run to give the Buffaloes a 20-9 lead with 8:14 left in the second quarter.

Iowa State added a field goal with 3:27 left in the first half to cut the Buffalo lead to 20-12 as both teams headed into the locker rooms for halftime.

“I told the guys at halftime whoever wanted it the most would win the game,” McCarney said. “I guess we wanted it just a little more than they did.

“We had a hard long week coming off of Saturday’s loss at Kansas State. The coaches and players handled it with both class and style.”

Things fell apart for Colorado in a five minute span during the third quarter. Wide receiver Eric McCready fumbled on the opening drive of the half, and the Cyclones capitalized with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Rosenfels to cut the lead to 20-18 as a two-point conversion run by Rosenfels failed.

On the next Buffalo possession, cornerback Ryan Sloth came up with a huge sack on 3rd and 6 to force the Buffaloes to punt. Rosenfels would then connect with Moses on a 44-yard touchdown pass as the lightning quick Moses juked a Buffalo defender and outraced the safety to the endzone. The two-point conversion was good this time and gave the Cyclones a lead they would not relinquish at 26-20.

The very next play after the kickoff was the play that put the Buffaloes in a deep hole. Under heavy pressure from the Cyclone defensive line, Colorado quarterback Craig Ochs threw an interception that Doug Densmore returned 51 yards to the Colorado 13-yard line.

“Their quarterback had been hitting crossing patterns all day. I just made a good read on this play,” Densmore said. “I tried to get in the endzone, but I was a little to slow. I guess I will have to work on my 40 speed a little more.”

Three successive runs by Rosenfels produced a touchdown, and the Cyclones found themselves ahead by 12 points after the two-point conversion failed.

Coach McCarney only had good things to say about the rushing ability and overall performance of Rosenfels.

“Sage made some great decisions today,” McCarney said. “When the coverage was there he pulled the ball down and ran with it. Our offense executed really well, especially in the second half.”

The Buffaloes would cut the lead to 32-27 near the end of the third quarter as Ochs hit McCready on a 5-yard scoring strike. The Buffs would get the ball back twice the rest of the game only to turn the ball over on two untimely fumbles.

With 6:42 left in the game, Iowa State faced a critical 4th and 6 from the Colorado 29-yard line. McCarney decided to send out the field goal unit, and his decision proved to be the right one as Gomez’s kick cleared the crossbar by inches giving the ‘Clones an 8-point lead.

Iowa State’s kicking game, which has been much maligned all season, definitely got a boost from Gomez Saturday.

“[Gomez] has confidence, courage and guts,” McCarney said. “When it was time for the kick, he told me not to worry because he would make it. It takes a real man to say something like that.”

Gomez felt confident, despite the terrible weather conditions, that he could make the kick.

“I told Coach all you have to do is put me in the game, and I’ll make it,” Gomez said. “I knew it could only help us since we were ahead. It was ugly but it went through.”

With the Buffs facing a 4th and 1 deep in Cyclone territory and under two minutes remaining, the ISU defense once again proved ready for the task and forced and recovered a fumble.

Iowa State proceeded to run the clock out behind Haywood who had 18 carries for 81 yards on the day.

The two offenses combined for 889 total yards on the day despite cold temperatures and a constant snowfall. It was the big plays for both teams, however, that did the most damage.

Colorado quarterback Craig Ochs and receiver Javon Green hurt the Cyclones all day with timely passes and receptions. Ochs finished 25 of 34 on the day for 307 yards while Green set a personal record with 167 yards on nine catches.

The victory gave Iowa State its first 7-win season since 1978 and a reason to celebrate as it appears the ‘Clones will be playing a bowl game for the first time since that same year.

“If you want to play a bowl game someplace nice, you can’t come out and lose your last three games,” said ISU center Ben Bruns. “I am just glad I can wake up tomorrow with a smile on my face.”

“We won [Saturday] because of the team, not one individual,” McCarney said. “That always makes you really happy, especially as a head coach.”