Martin: Burned multiple times, defense powers Iowa State to Big 12 title game

Iowa State defensive lineman Latrell Bankston readies up to rush Louisiana’s offensive line Sept. 12.

Zach Martin

AUSTIN, Texas — It was bent time after time. It was on its heels drive after drive.

It never broke.

When No. 13 Iowa State needed one final defensive stand Friday afternoon on the road against No. 17 Texas, that unit came through for the biggest win in program history at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Latrell Bankston made the game-sealing sack on third down and with three seconds left, the Cyclones witnessed a 57-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker sail wide left and euphoria ensued.

Iowa State 23, Texas 20.

It all but assures the Cyclones a spot in the Big 12 Championship game in three weeks time in Jerry’s World. The year of 2020 is mainly going to be remembered for the sadness of COVID-19.

It will also be remembered as the year Iowa State arrived as a major college football program.

It can thank the defense for that.

After Breece Hall plunged for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Cyclones their first and only lead of the day, Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense had the ball with under 1 minute, 30 seconds left.

Ehlinger had his way for the previous 58:30.

The senior quarterback burned the Cyclones secondary by targeting and connecting with Brennan Eagles, who finished with 142 yards on five catches.

He used a plethora of QB runs for chunk yardage that took energy out of the linebackers. There was no spy for 95 percent of the game, meaning the Cyclones were daring Ehlinger to beat them.

And he nearly did. Until he didn’t.

Ehlinger was stopped on 4th and 1 inside the Iowa State red zone. After Cyclones Head Coach Matt Campbell punted when they were near midfield on the ensuing drive, the game looked over.

Until Texas Head Coach Tom Herman didn’t let Ehlinger use his legs. Two incomplete passes later and it punted the ball back to Iowa State.

The Longhorns got the ball into Cyclones territory and was setting up Dicker for at least a game-tying field goal. His career long entering Friday was from 57 yards.

O’Rien Vance was used as the spy on the final drive. It was useful on the final three plays when the front three generated enough pressure to make Ehlinger throw two straight incompletions.

It was the kind of statement that Iowa State needed to make.

That back five had big plays after big plays against them against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas — the premier teams over the last decade in the Big 12.

Yet, when needed the most, the secondary halted any game-costing plays. That should be rewarded and noticed.

I wrote last week after the blowout win over Kansas State that it was time to believe this was the year for Iowa State. That it is time to recognize it is a team to be reckon with.

Now? It is a program that has arrived under Campbell and will likely be inside the top-10 of the next College Football Playoff Rankings.

One more regular season game awaits, and that’s next Saturday at home against West Virginia for senior night. The senior class Campbell has repeatedly said they don’t get to this point without them.

Savor this one. Because a team like this only comes once in a lifetime.