Marner: Same movie, different ending

Iowa State linebacker Joel Lanning wrestles Texas receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey to the ground during the third quarter of Iowa State’s 17-7 loss.

Aaron Marner

I felt like I was experiencing deja vu.

I had seen this movie before.

Iowa State had fought through adversity. Third-string quarterback Kyle Kempt was starting in place of Jacob Park, starting linebacker Willie Harvey didn’t play, Joel Lanning played 78 snaps on offense, defense AND special teams — which is why it was no surprise when Oklahoma took a 14-point lead.

After all, the Sooners entered as four-touchdown favorites.

But the Cyclones battled back, as they tend to do.

I had seen this movie before, where Iowa State battled against all odds to almost — key word being “almost” — bathe in glory, only to fall short in a miraculous way.

I watched in 2004 and 2005 as Iowa State missed field goals and made silly mistakes, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory and doing everything in its power to avoid the Big 12 Championship game.

I watched in 2011 as Iowa State stunned No. 2 Oklahoma State, changing the college football landscape forever, and promptly proceeded to lose its final three games of the season in disappointing fashion.

I watched in 2013 as a 3-9 Iowa State team lost five games by one score or less, including the nightmarish 31-30 loss to Texas.

Simply put, as I watched Oklahoma march down the field late in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, I had all but published my story on Iowa State’s narrow defeat.

Then, the Iowa State I had seen my whole life disappeared in front of my eyes. In its place stood a team that finished the job, played with some swagger but didn’t act like it had just pulled off the biggest win in program history, even though that’s exactly what it was.

As the entire sports world knows by now, Iowa State pulled off a massive 38-31 upset at No. 3 Oklahoma. The movie I had seen a thousand times suddenly had a different ending.

Matt Campbell’s postgame speech in the locker room was one I hadn’t heard before. He was proud of his team of course, but he made it clear that Saturday’s monumental victory isn’t the end of the road.

“You’ll remember this for a long time,” Campbell said. “But I refuse to allow this to be the end of our story.”

That’s the important part — everyone who was in the stadium for the 2011 Oklahoma State upset is going to remember that for a long time, but only because that’s as good as it got. Instead of being a stepping stone toward greater success and national relevance, the 37-31 2OT thriller was the peak, and it’s been mostly downhill ever since.

Campbell’s message struck a chord with all who have seen the big wins, but haven’t seen the end result. Iowa State, now, has two wins over top-three teams in the last seven years, but the team hasn’t won a bowl game in that span, nor have they had a winning record overall or in conference play.

“This is the start of something special, the start of something really powerful and special,” Campbell said. “But only if you stay the course.”

Stay the course. Maybe that’s the new tagline, rather than “trust the process,” or “raise the standard.” After all, once you win on the road against the No. 3 team with a walk-on quarterback, there isn’t much you can’t accomplish.

Saturday’s win was a win for Iowa State’s culture. Allen Lazard has been on this team for four years now, and some players, like Joel Lanning, have been around the program for five.

The seniors have never had a target on their backs. Nobody on this team has, at least not at the college level, faced that challenge. That’s why the rest of this season is just as important as Saturday’s game. It’s time for Iowa State to step up and play like a team that wants the pressure of expectations, a team that wants the pressure of a national audience.

A year ago on this date, Iowa State was 1-5 with three narrow losses and a pair of blowout defeats. Hope of a bowl game was already out the window. The Cyclones were fighting for pride and the future, not for the 2016 season.

This win validates what fans had hoped — Matt Campbell and the assistant coaches are, slowly but surely, changing the culture at Iowa State. The Cyclones have faced four common opponents between last year and this year (Northern Iowa, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma) and Iowa State has fared better against all four of them in year two than year one. That’s a sure sign of improvement.

The Cyclones probably won’t win nine games this year, nor will they finish in the top 25 or compete for a Big 12 championship, but Iowa State’s future is looking brighter than ever.

“We’ve got a lot of football left to play,” Campbell said. “Don’t let this be the maximum.”