AMES – If Western Illinois University was going to have any chance against Iowa State on Saturday night, one thing had to happen.
The Leathernecks couldn’t let the Cyclones get off to a quick start.
So what happened?
But before the Leathernecks let this one get away, they were able to at least stay close until the end of the first half.
It wouldn’t be enough, as the Cyclones finished their sweep through nonconference play with a 37-3 win at Jack Trice Stadium.
It was a six-figure payday for Western Illinois (2-1), but coach Mark Hendrickson thinks there are bigger dividends to come to his team from this game.
“After the game, there was a good feeling in the locker room,” he said. “I learned again tonight that we’ve got a tough group of young men. We never did quit playing.”
“We’re fighters,” said defensive back David McDaniel, who had one of the Leathernecks’ two interceptions. “We kept fighting, no matter what the score was.”
“It’s experience for us,” said linebacker J.J. Raffelson, who led the Leathernecks in tackles with eight. “We played hard, didn’t quit, and that’s a good feeling.”
The Cyclones (3-0) had a similar start to what they had last week against Iowa, and had a similar letdown in the middle of the game.
This time, though, they finished strong, although all of the starters were out of the game by midway through the third quarter.
It looked like this game would get out of control early. James White raced for a 56-yard touchdown run five offensive plays into the game for an early 7-0 lead. And when quarterback Steele Jantz threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Young less than three minutes later, Iowa State led 14-0.
“We really started fast and I thought our guys came out with great energy and urgency,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
“We want to set the tone right away and tonight we did that,” Young said.
But the Cyclones’ offense, like it did last week against Iowa, bogged down. Some of it was the Leathernecks’ defense, some of it was sloppy play by Iowa State.
“I feel like we got our act together,” Raffelson said.
“We weren’t set back by (the start),” McDaniel said. “We just had some miscommunications. We got that worked out.”
“Our defense literally settled down,” Hendrickson said. “I told them at halftime I was very proud of the way they responded.”
“I thought our focus (at the start) was on the money,” Rhoads said. “And then we stalled as an offensive football team and we can’t do that.”
The Cyclones didn’t score again until Young caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jantz with 56 seconds left in the first half, and Iowa State carried just a 21-0 lead into halftime.
The Leathernecks couldn’t get any momentum going to start the half. They went three-and-out on their first possession, and then Iowa State showed some offensive life by going no-huddle. The result was a crisp 5-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that took just 1:06 off the clock, with Jantz throwing a 22-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Horne.
The lead was 28-0, and soon the Cyclones were putting in the reserves.
Western Illinois finally got into scoring range early in the fourth quarter. The Leathernecks got to the Iowa State 9, but Hudson’s pass to Justin Morgan in the end zone on third down was too high. Pat Smith then kicked a 26-yard field goal, to assure Western Illinois would not be shut out.
Iowa State finished with 504 offensive yards and had 27 first downs to the Leathernecks’ eight. But Western Illinois had a 31:28-28:32 edge in time of possession.
“We didn’t want the game to get out of hand,” said Western Illinois running back Nikko Watson, who rushed for 76 yards.
The Leathernecks had just 178 yards of offense, the lowest total by an Iowa State opponent since 2004.
Western Illinois won the turnover battle with two interceptions and a fumble recovery, while not giving up the ball.
McDaniel and Luke Venegoni had interceptions, while Trey Garvey recovered a Jantz fumble.
Jantz completed 19-of-26 passes for 209 yards. White led the Cyclones with 72 rushing yards, while DeVonrick Nealy had 70.
The Cyclones are off to a 3-0 start for the second consecutive year. They are off this week before starting Big 12 play.
“Now we roll into an open week and we have to improve as a football team,” Rhoads said.
Western Illinois heads into Missouri Valley Football Conference play next Saturday at home against Illinois State.
“I think a game like this shows us where we’re at,” Watson said. “This is going to be a tough league.”
“We’re in a tough league, and there are a lot of good tests ahead,” Raffelson said.
First downs 8 27
Rushes-yards 38-103 41-264
Passing 75 240
Comp-Att-Int 10-19-0 23-35-2
Return Yards 15 64
Punts-Avg. 11-38.5 4-47.3
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties-Yards 2-20 7-75
Time of Possession 31:28 28:32
W. Illinois 0 0 0 3 – 3
Iowa St. 14 7 10 6 – 37
ISU-J.White 56 run (Arceo kick), 13:10.
ISU-Young 16 pass from Jantz (Arceo kick), 9:34.
ISU-Young 5 pass from Jantz (Arceo kick), :56.
ISU-Horne 22 pass from Jantz (Arceo kick), 12:27.
ISU-FG Arceo 49, 4:17.
WIll-FG Smith 26, 14:09.
ISU-Standard 1 run (pass failed), 1:49.
RUSHING-W. Illinois, Watson 17-76, C.Ray 9-16, Hudson 7-7, Heard 5-4. Iowa St., J.White 5-72, Nealy 9-70, Jantz 7-33, Standard 7-30, S.Richardson 2-25, Barnett 3-15, Johnson 4-9, Woody 2-7, J.West 2-3.
PASSING-W. Illinois, Hudson 9-18-0-73, Lunt 1-1-0-2. Iowa St., Jantz 19-26-1-209, Barnett 4-9-1-31.
RECEIVING-W. Illinois, Morgan 4-32, Chestnut 2-30, Hill 1-18, Howington 1-2, Watson 1-(minus 1), C.Ray 1-(minus 6). Iowa St., Young 7-86, Tiller 4-41, J.West 3-29, J.White 3-24, Horne 2-28, Bundrage 1-13, Johnson 1-8, Lenz 1-6, Gary 1-5.