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‘He’s powerful and he’s special’: Sama races into the record books

Tyler Coe
Abu Sama waits in the end zone for his teammates after scoring a 71-yard touchdown at the Iowa State vs. Kansas State football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023, in Manhattan, Kansas.

MANHATTAN, Kansas — Big plays throughout the game aided the Cyclones’ tit-for-tat 42-35 win against No. 19 Kansas State, where the momentum shifts came as often as Abu Sama III touchdowns.

Entering the final regular season game of the season, Iowa State was short-handed in the running back room with Eli Sanders and Cartevious Norton not making the trip to Manhattan. It would need to put their trust in true freshman Carson Hansen and Sama.

Luckily for the Cyclones, the young duo made their case with a historical performance in the tundra that was Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

From the first snap of the game, it was clear that Sama was going to play a vital role in the Iowa State offense. An explosive 71-yard run up the middle in which he showed off his breakaway put the Cyclones on the board, 18 seconds into the game.

For those who believe lightning does not strike twice, allow Sama to introduce himself.

Just like he opened up the first quarter with an explosive house call, he started the second quarter the same way, only this time it was for 77 yards. The Iowa native outran multiple Wildcat defenders down the sideline to extend the Cyclone lead to eight.

After bouncing to the outside for his second touchdown of the game, Sama sat with 161 rushing yards on five carries. Prior to the game, he had rushed for 334 yards in his nine appearances in the Cyclones’ running back-by-committee style offense.

“He’s gotten better every week,” head coach Matt Campbell said. “I thought he was obviously exceptional tonight. I think the last time we were here a guy ran it on the first play for a touchdown, and yeah [Sama] is pretty special.”

That ‘other guy’ that Campbell mentioned is current New York Jet runningback Breece Hall and former Cyclone, whom Sama has found himself in good company with multiple times now this season.

Sama continued to get big runs at times in the second half, headlined by another authoritative 60-yard touchdown run which tied the game at 28 in the third quarter. He finished the game with 276 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, the first Cyclone since Hall in 2021 to rush for over 200.

“He was due for another big game,” quarterback Rocco Becht said. “He had some bumps and bruises throughout the season where he couldn’t quit. I’m proud of him, he had a great week of practice as well. He’s been preparing well and asking questions.”

Sixth-year linebacker Gerry Vaughn echoed Becht’s thoughts on who will likely be the Cyclones’ starting tailback moving forward, and that his hard work in practice has not gone unnoticed.

“I’m proud of him seeing him work day in and day out and I think all of his hard work is paying off,” Vaughn said.

Without Sama’s booming first half, the Iowa State offense was nearly nonexistent.

Becht attempted five passes, completing three, with the only one resulting in positive yards being the 11-yard catch from Sama in the first quarter. The lack of success in the passing game was not all because of Becht as his receivers could not separate themselves enough for him to take a chance at them.

At times in the second half when Kansas State became wise to the Cyclones’ objective to keep feeding Sama the ball, Iowa State needed to get the passing game going to keep up with the Wildcats.

Wide receivers Jayden Higgins and Jaylin Noel answered the call.

In the second half, the playmaking duo combined for 215 receiving yards and were responsible for three of the Cyclones’ four touchdowns they were forced to score to keep up with Kansas State.

Noel got things started early in the third quarter with a 79-yard catch and run across the middle and into the endzone to help outmuscle the Wildcats who put together back-to-back touchdown drives at the end of the first half.

The Wildcats kept their persistence throughout the second half and punched another touchdown in to take the lead early in the fourth quarter.

Like clockwork, it was time for someone to step up for the Iowa State offense and make a play.

Higgins had not had his name called all night and compiled all of his receiving yards on the following drive, with a clutch 22-yard catch on third and five followed by a 33-yard touchdown grab on a perfectly placed ball by Becht to tie the game.

Jayden Higgins celebrates after scoring a touchdown at the Iowa State vs. Kansas State football game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2023 in Manhattan, KS. (Tyler Coe)

After a momentum-swinging stop by the Iowa State defense, the Cyclones had the ball back with a substantial amount of time left on the clock and a chance at taking back the lead in the fourth quarter.

Noel went on to cash in Iowa State’s fifth 60-plus-yard touchdown on a dazzling catch and shift to the inside. While he only needed 15 for the first down, he charged his way into the endzone after dusting Kansas State for 82 yards and his fifth touchdown of the season.

“At first I’m like ‘what in the heck is he doing just get the first down,’” Campbell said. “Ben [Brahmer] throws a really good block there and [Noel] ability to break it out to the right and go.”

That would end up being the game-winning touchdown for the Cyclones’ fourth straight road conference win.

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  • D

    Dori | Nov 26, 2023 at 8:17 pm

    Run Sama Run!! What a fun game!

  • J

    Jack Schilling | Nov 26, 2023 at 5:47 pm

    We’re gonna talk about Sama like he’s some God when he got 11 rushing against Texas last week.

  • L

    Larry Bruns | Nov 26, 2023 at 12:23 pm

    It was such an exciting game to watch especially with the weather being not great. Kansas would move the ball some,but Iowa was not at first but then they gave it to Samba and he would score. Then a little later he did it again. It didn’t matter where on the field he did get it he scored that play. It was either his 2 or 3 score they tried to tackle him and all it did was give him more separation! I don’t remember the other Iowa player that scored twice but he would run the sideline like a tightrope . This was the only Iowa State game I got to see this year and it was exciting! Thanks!