AMES — Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz quietly returned to the starting lineup.
Bruised and battered linebacker Jake Knott — despite a report to the contrary — never left.
And all the Cyclones wove a tale of redemption rooted in the trenches Saturday against Baylor, ending a two-game Big 12 losing streak with a 35-21 triumph before 54,877 happy, but chilled Homecoming fans at Jack Trice Stadium.
“Let’s see,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said after the game. “‘Steele Jantz gets first Big 12 victory.’ ‘Steele Jantz heats up Jack Trice Stadium.’”
Jantz — who won a three-way quarterback battle late this week — threw for a career best-shattering 381 yards on 36-of-51 passing for five touchdowns and one interception.
The formerly benched quarterback’s five touchdown tosses tied an ISU record set by Todd Bandhauer in 1998. His 36 completions matched a mark established in 2008 by Austen Arnaud.
“This very well could have been his best game as an Iowa State (player),” Rhoads said.
ISU (5-3, 2-3) now stands one win from being bowl eligible for the third time in Rhoads’ four seasons.
Knott, who was rumored to be out with a shoulder injury, forced a goalline fumble on Baylor’s opening drive, one of four turnovers the Cyclones collected.
“Great players make great plays,” Rhoads said.
The game unfolded in weird, wild and often curious ways — especially early.
Baylor (3-4, 0-4) drove to the ISU one-yard line on its opening drive, but on third and goal, quarterback Nick Florence tried to extend the football across the plane.
Knott knocked it loose and defensive end Willie Scott pounced on it for a touchback.
After the Cyclones’ ensuing drive stalled, the Bears muffed a punt at their own 35 that ISU safety Durrell Givens recovered.
Result? No points.
ISU kicker Edwin Arceo missed a 32-yard field goal attempt wide right.
So two turnovers gained in less than five minutes yielded nothing.
But the Cyclones persevered — weathering myriad dropped passes, especially by usually sure-handed Aaron Horne — and answered Baylor’s first touchdown with a 23-yard scoring strike from Jantz to Jarvis West.
The Bears responded moments later when Florence hit Tevin Reese for a 49-yard touchdown to make the score 14-7.
Jared Barnett trotted out as ISU’s quarterback in the next possession, but struggled, putting a ball on the ground he recovered, and eventually went three and out.
The defense then forced the Bears to do the same.
Jantz came back in.
He turned a third and 10 situation at the ISU 33 into a 15-yard completion to Chris Young.
He withstood a massive blitz on fourth and seven from the Baylor 36-yard line, hitting Albert Gary for a touchdown that tied the score and turned momentum.
Jantz completed 20-of-30 first-half passes for 200 yards and three scores.
His third touchdown of the first half capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive that ended in West’s second career receiving touchdown with 27 seconds left.
He added a eight-yard touchdown to Jeff Woody and a 22-yard scoring pass to West in the second half as ISU built a 35-14 lead.“It’s great to be at (win) number five,” Rhoads said. “Now we’re worried about the ninth game."