AMES, Iowa – Missouri had no reason to show up, but it did.
Playing with pride and a desire to stop a losing string as its only motivations, the Tigers produced their best 60-minute effort since October. It yielded a 17-14 overtime win at Iowa State on Saturday.
“Not everything went our way, but it was still a close game,” senior tackle Scott Paffrath said. “We should have lost the game. If that guy makes the field goal, it’s a whole different situation. But things were on our side, and we kept playing. That’s all you can ask for.”
Although it won’t erase the sting of missing a bowl and a chance to win the Big 12 North Division, it offers a positive ending after the listless play recently.
To understand the Tigers’ devotion, take the Cyclones’ final possession of regulation as an example.
With the score tied at 14 with 2:41 left, the Tigers had a chance to capitulate after Steve Paris returned a Thomson Omboga fumble 51 yards to the Missouri 15. The defense held, though, and kept the Cyclones out of the end zone.
On third-and-5 from the Missouri 10, linebacker Henry Sweat stopped running back Stevie Hicks for a 4-yard gain. That effort was rewarded with a significant turn of fortune.
With 1 minute, 2 seconds left and the Cyclones poised to win the Big 12 North Division title with a 24-yard field goal, kicker Bret Culbertson, who had made 19-of-20 on the season, missed the kick wide right.
Perhaps, Culbertson overcompensated for the stiff wind whipping around Jack Trice Stadium. Senior safety Nino Williams suggested Culbertson’s was a divine blessing. In reality, it was a rare break for the Tigers during their five-game losing streak.
In overtime, the Tigers made their break to secure the game by way of their sweat. The Cyclones gained a first-and-goal situation at the Missouri 3 but went backward. Then on third-and-goal at the 6, quarterback Bret Meyer threw an interception to cornerback A.J. Kincade.
“To have them first down from the 3-yard line and to come up with another big play, it shows a lot about us,” Williams said. “I’m glad we were able to get it.
“You could see it in everybody’s eyes on the defense, that it wasn’t (finished). I think everybody had that mindset going into overtime. The character of the team is strong. I guess you get things like that through hard work. I guess we deserved that.”
Williams’ comments come three weeks after players Thomson Omboga and Brad Smith said they could see defeat and a coming loss to Kansas State in teammates’ eyes.
The defense deserves praise for more than its efforts on the final possession and overtime. After Kansas had its way with the Tigers a week ago in a 31-14 loss, the Tigers resembled the team, which had become the one of the best defenses in the nation earlier in the season.
The Cyclones produced 349 total yards but never dominated like the Jayhawks did last week. In addition, the Tigers knocked Bret Meyer, the Cyclones starting quarterback, out of the game for several series in the third quarter. The Tigers also garnered the crucial turnover that had been absent in previous weeks.