‘I hope this goes against us’ – Cyclones bounce back after review

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell argues a call during the 59th Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tennessee on Dec. 30, 2017. The Cyclones defeated the Tigers 21-20.

Aaron Marner

MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Just over four minutes remained in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

The Cyclones held a 21-20 lead over the Memphis Tigers and had the ball, with a first down and just three yards between them and the endzone. A touchdown would give Iowa State a great chance to win its first bowl game since 2009.

Coach Matt Campbell and offensive coordinator Tom Manning called for No. 32, David Montgomery. The sophomore running back had over 1,100 rushing yards on the season, along with 11 touchdowns.

Montgomery ran up the middle on first down and gained two yards.

He ran up the middle again on second down and nearly crossed the goal-line, but was pushed back and called short.

On third down, Montgomery fumbled the ball as he crossed the plane. Memphis recovered. It was Iowa State’s first lost fumble of the season.

The referees reviewed the play to see if Montgomery had crossed the goal-line before fumbling, but eventually ruled that the ball had come loose and was a fumble.

Matt Campbell gathered his defense in a huddle during the review.

“To be 100 percent truthful to you, he came into the huddle and said he hopes that the call goes against us,” said redshirt senior linebacker Joel Lanning. “To show people that we’ve learned [from the Kansas State loss].”

Iowa State lost to Kansas State in the final seconds after a questionable decision by the official took away a 15-yard pass interference flag that went in Iowa State’s favor. The Cyclones couldn’t recover from what they thought was a mistake by the officials, and it cost them the game.

Campbell wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.

“To me, it was really hard for me to sleep the last month with us not winning the last game we played because we had the ability to do it,” Campbell said. “I don’t put that on the kids, I put that on me. I thought that I didn’t do a good enough job when adversity hit our football team late in the game.

“I told our kids in the huddle ‘I hope this goes against us. And I hope the story at the end of the game is our ability to overcome adversity and win the game.’ That’s what happened and it’s kind of the name of this Iowa State team.”

Iowa State’s star running back had just lost a fumble for the first time all season. Memphis and quarterback Riley Ferguson average nearly 50 points per game, so giving them the ball with the chance to win with a field goal was a tall task for Iowa State’s defense. And, of course, Ferguson and the Tigers were playing in their home stadium.

In the span of one play, Iowa State’s situation went from a near-certain victory to a 50-50 ballgame. Yet Campbell was… happy?

“I mean, he’s a little crazy,” said senior defensive end J.D. Waggoner, who finished with three tackles for loss and two sacks in his final game as a Cyclone. “Obviously I wanted us to score. But at the same time, it’s that mentality that he trusts the defense that much that we don’t need to score here, we can handle it on defense.”

The Tigers got the ball back, drove 40 yards down the field over 11 plays, but couldn’t convert on a fourth down in Cyclone territory.

Iowa State just had to get one first down to seal the game. They did — on a Joel Lanning run, of course — and after Kyle Kempt took three knees, the celebration was on.

“This defense just keeps playing together — team defense, the whole time,” Lanning said. “Coach Heacock and everyone just says, ‘play harder longer than they do.’”