‘It’s a bittersweet feeling’: Cyclone seniors show out but leave with a loss


Daniel Jacobi II

WIll McDonald brings down Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez in 10-9 loss on Oct. 8.

Christian Royston, Sports Reporter

AMES — In the bright lights of the Jack, Iowa State seniors had their last chance to shine before the season and their Cyclone careers at home came to a close.

Although the team took home a heartbreaking 14-10 loss to Texas Tech, the seniors put on a show and did what they could to keep the game close.

The final home game for the Cyclones proved to be another dominant outing for the senior-led defense. The night was meant to honor the seniors and the work they’ve done, and the seniors proved the impact they had on the success of the team. However, sending the seniors out on a loss wasn’t part of the game plan.

“That’s the really hard part. It’s been the hard part of the season,” Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s what tears at me, it’s gut-wrenching. I could care less about me. I could care a ton about our kids.”

When the team needed them most, the seniors did step up.

ISU vs. Texas Tech – Texas Tech runner being chased down the field at Jack Trice Stadium Nov. 19, 2022. (Joseph Dicklin)

With opportunities getting fewer, the veteran Cyclones didn’t have many more chances to cement themselves in school history.

Going into the season, defensive end Will McDonald had his eyes set on one record. The Big 12 career sack record. He wanted to be at the top, and no one was going to stand in his way.

On a chilly Saturday night, McDonald delivered on his promise. In his last game at Jack Trice, McDonald tied the record he was chasing from the start of the year. 

“It is an honor to beat the sack record,” McDonald said. “Von Miller is one of the NFL players that I do look up to, and I do replicate my game off…It lets me know that I can be an elite player and play up to that level.”

As Texas Tech’s Tyler Shough dropped back to pass, McDonald beat his man on the edge. On the ground, McDonald made a final effort to leap toward Shough and knock the ball out of his hands, securing the strip sack, his 34th sack of his career. 

Although Texas Tech came up with the ball, McDonald came up with his name at the top of the Big 12 career sack leaderboard, alongside Aaron Hunt. For McDonald, it was nice to see himself at the top of the leaderboard, but that’s not his main goal.

“To me, I just see it as a perk,” McDonald said. “At the end of the day I still got to get my degree and that’s really all I care about.”

Throughout the night, the Iowa State defense had been playing on par with what was expected. Throughout the year, Iowa State’s defense maintained its spot at the top of the Big 12. 

Every game that needed to be kept close was kept close thanks to the defense. The final home game of the year, and senior night, proved no different.

Through three quarters, the defense gave up just seven points. Despite the lack of offensive production, the defense did what they could to keep the Cyclones in the game.

“This senior class has been nothing short of exceptional,” Campbell said. “It is literally the greatest leadership I’ve seen.”

Trailing 7-3 to Texas Tech late in the game, the defense made stop after stop in hopes of pulling out a win. On the other side of the ball, Texas Tech was making stops of its own.

With 15 minutes left on the clock, Iowa State’s defense just needed to hold off Texas Tech long enough to see the offense find success. Iowa State had played hard for three straight quarters and still had some left in the tank.

On the first play of the final quarter, Shough dropped back to pass. It was third down, with plenty of yards to go. As Shough scanned the field, the only thing he saw was O’Rien Vance bearing down on him.

Vance picked up the sack near the end zone, being the second senior of the night to get a big-time sack. That sack also brought out the Texas Tech punting unit, giving the Iowa State offense great field position to finally gain some steam.

With a gassed Iowa State defense watching and praying from the sideline, the offense paid back the hard work the defense was putting in. Quarterback Hunter Dekkers found tight end Easton Dean on the side line for 24 yards and a touchdown. 

As Dean jumped over the only defender in front of him and dove into the endzone, the stadium erupted and the defense finally breathed a sigh of relief. However, that sigh of relief was short lived, as Texas Tech marched down the field with ease.

Iowa State defenders were in positions to make big plays, but Texas Tech proved too persistent and found themselves in the end zone for the second time of the night. The lead switched back to Texas Tech.

The lead would never fall back in Iowa State’s favor.

Despite how well the defense played, despite the record-breaking night for McDonald, the Cyclones had to leave the stadium for the last time this season with a loss.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Beau Freyler said. “Obviously we’re proud of [McDonald] for being a hell of a player, a hell of a person, but we didn’t get the result.”

The Cyclones ended the game with nearly twice as many yards as Texas Tech. The 422 yards only yielded 10 points, as the red zone offense sputtered time and time again.

That’s been the story of the Big 12 season. The defense and the leadership keeps the game within reach, but wins never come. With one game left, the Cyclones have one final chance to send the seniors out on a high note.

Although TCU is undefeated and ranked No. 4 in the nation, the Cyclones aren’t looking at it as an unbeatable challenge. The defense allowed only 14 points to a Texas Tech team that was averaging over 30, and continues to find success putting the brakes on opposing offenses.

TCU may have the college football playoffs in sight, but Iowa State isn’t going to roll over. Every game has been close, thanks to the veterans on the defense. Now, there is only one challenge left to go.

“I just hope next week we can come back and send them off in the right way,” Dean said.