On the biggest stage its ever been on, Iowa State falls short in a comeback effort

Iowa State tight end Charlie Kolar runs into the end zone after catching a pass during the 2020 Dr. Pepper Big 12 Football Championship against Oklahoma at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Zane Douglas

ARLINGTON, Texas – After 108 years of waiting, Iowa State got its chance to hold its conference championship crown again, but the Cyclones fell short on the big stage to the powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners.

The game came down to the wire as Iowa State came back from a 24-7 deficit to make it close. The Cyclones had 1:55 seconds to go 70 yards and score a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter, down 27-21, but a Brock Purdy desperation heave on a third and long was picked off, handing Oklahoma the win.

“This is not a result oriented football program,” said Head Coach Matt Campbell. “I think we’re result aware, outcome aware, but I really believe that the investment of our leadership team from our coaches, to our players is we are process and really culture driven.”

The first half was all Sooners, as Oklahoma kept adding to a growing lead while the Cyclones were hit with every bad break in the book, including losing one of their promising young defensive standouts in Isheem Young on the second play from scrimmage due to a targeting call, penalties not going their way and a few bad decisions.

Operating in the same pattern as Iowa State overall, junior quarterback Brock Purdy had a come-from-behind performance after a tough first half.

Purdy’s first interception came when the Cyclones were down 17-0 knocking on Oklahoma’s doorstep. Purdy saw redshirt junior tight end Charlie Kolar in the back of the end zone and fired a pass that would be picked off, taking the wind out of Iowa State’s sails.

Two more interceptions, including one on Iowa State’s last drive of the game, sealed the win for the Sooners. Kolar, the target on the first interception, was behind Purdy and the adjustments he made throughout the game.

“He’s a fuckin’ warrior,” Kolar said. “You can say what you want about the three picks but he keeps fighting till’ the last second. I’m not gonna stand here for any Brock slander so, I would go to war with him any day of the week, any day of the year.

“Just like him, all of us we gotta get better. Obviously, he didn’t play his best game but none of us did, but I don’t care I fuckin’ love him.”

The Purdy and Kolar connection was one of the few things working for Iowa State in the first half and the two ended the game connecting on six passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.

That touchdown broke the scoring seal for the Cyclones and was the only points that Iowa State could muster in the first half.

Purdy finished with 322 yards, completing 27 of 40 passes and a touchdown to go along with his three interceptions, but while his turnaround helped bring the Cyclones back, he wasn’t the main force.

What kept the Cyclones alive in the game was a stellar second half performance from the defense.

Iowa State’s defense forced punts on Oklahoma’s first five drives of the second half and then only allowed a field goal on the last Sooner drive, keeping the Oklahoma lead to just six points for Iowa State’s last gasp.

After a blistering first half on both sides for Oklahoma, the Sooners were passed in total yards for the game by the Cyclone offense in the second half and could only put up three points the entire half.

The defensive effort in the second wasn’t enough to satisfy redshirt senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey who wanted a better result for Iowa State.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Bailey said. “We still lost and just it wasn’t good enough.”

The year as a whole was filled with uncharted territory for Iowa State, as the Cyclones made themselves known on a national level, won the Big 12 regular season title for the first time in 108 years and made it to their conference championship game.

The Big 12 season ended in a loss for Iowa State, but the Cyclones fought back and made the game come down to the last drive. For that, Campbell is happy with his team.

“You hate it that you’re a couple points short in this game but boy oh boy you leave pretty damn proud.”