“A beacon of hope”: Iowa State ends a historic season on a high note

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell holds up the 2020 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl trophy Jan. 2 after beating No. 25 Oregon.

Zane Douglas

GLENDALE Ariz. — A historic season ended the right way for Iowa State as it came away with a convincing win over Pac-12 champion Oregon on Saturday in the 2021 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.

The Cyclones finished the season 9-3 after the 34-17 win and cemented the 2020-21 football season as one of the best in program history.

“I think this is just etched in my mind, the importance and the humility of growth,” Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “And through some really dark and trying times, this team has been a beacon of hope for a lot. This team has grown and gotten better when a lot of things around us maybe went the other way.”

It was a game led by Iowa State’s stars, with Brock Purdy, Breece Hall and Mike Rose all having solid performances.

Oregon had its fair share of mistakes, giving the Cyclones ample opportunities and Campbell’s group capitalized on those opportunities, turning them into points in the first 30 minutes.

This all led to an offensive show from the Cyclones in the first half, with 28 points coming on just five drives. The drive that didn’t end in a touchdown was a fourth down goal line stop from Oregon.

Iowa State’s final challenge wouldn’t come that easy though.

The Ducks stayed in it, putting up 17 points of their own to keep up with the blazing Cyclone offense.

“To be able to finish off a season like 2020, in this fashion was really everything to me,” Purdy said. “Going into this game that’s what I was emphasizing. Just finish finish finish and then get going for next year.”

The second half is where the Cyclones would seal their first bowl-game win in three years and a season filled with records and program firsts would come to an end.

And that second half was nothing like the first.

It was the Cyclone defense that put on a show after the break, holding the Ducks to no points in the second half. Kicker Connor Assalley also tacked on two field goals in a perfect day for him — his last game as a Cyclone.

The defense in the second half was reminiscent of Iowa State’s game with Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship, where Iowa State showed up to stop anything and everything thrown against it.

“After the first couple drives we figured out their game plan,” junior linebacker Mike Rose said. “We’ve done a great job this year of just really shutting it down later in the game.”

The Cyclones ended up forcing four turnovers, three fumbles and one interception and it was Rose who made the big play to end the game.

Rose sealed the Fiesta Bowl win, with his fifth interception of the season, tying an Iowa State single-season record and preserving a second half shutout for Iowa State.

Playing just beside him, redshirt junior linebacker O’Rien Vance contributed on turnovers as well, falling on two of the three fumbles for Iowa State which earned him defensive player of the game honors.

As a whole, the game wasn’t just a big win for Iowa State, but the culmination of system that has rapidly made its way into the discussion for big bowl games, conference championships and numerous accolades.

For Campbell though, it’s not about the accolades or the bowl games.

Campbell said after the game that what’s been really important, given the program he runs and the year that the world is having is the growth that people have in their personal lives and in his team’s case, their lives as Iowa State football players as well.

“I think each and every one of these young men have been just an inspiration to me of the growth that it takes to become the best version of yourself that you can be,” Campbell said.

The growth of Iowa State’s team led it to a tough test against Oregon. Iowa State and Campbell got to face that test on one of the biggest stages in the nation and the Cyclones came out on top, winning them their final game and ending a historic campaign.