AMES — Blink of an eye.
Flick of the wrist.
West Virginia’s electrifying receiver/running back Tavon Austin needed a relative instant — 11 seconds buried within 60 hard-fought minutes — to churn out the most agonizing 75-yard touchdown catch and run in recent Iowa State history.
“The crowd went dead,” Cyclone defensive lineman Cleyon Laing said. “The team went dead.”
Austin’s long run triggered by quarterback Geno Smith’s short flick quashed ISU’s hopes for a seven-win regular season — and put the final painful points on the board in the Mountaineers’ 31-24 Big 12 triumph before 53,792 fans at Jack Trice Stadium.
But the short, but lethal Smith-to-Austin connection came with six minutes and 31 seconds left.
So hope remained — and crested as new starting quarterback Sam Richardson led the bowl-bound Cyclones (6-6, 3-6) to the West Virginia 7-yard line with about four minutes left.
Then, disaster struck usually sure-handed short-yardage runner Jeff Woody, who, with both hands on the ball, saw it raked loose inside the 5 by Mountaineers safety Darwin Cook.
The football skittered mere inches into the end zone and West Virginia’s Karl Joseph fell on it.
“(Woody) wraps it up tighter than anybody,” ISU Coach Paul Rhoads said. “The blow was delivered just right.”
Game effectively sealed.
The Cyclones were left in stunned silence, whispering what if, while seeing dreams of a possible Holiday Bowl appearance in San Diego dissipate as they dropped in the postseason pecking order.
“We all have this taste in our mouth like we should have won this game,” ISU center Tom Farniok said. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had this happen this year. It’s happened a couple times and it’s just an awful feeling. There’s nothing worse than losing a game you should have won.”
The Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5) celebrated the end of a five-game skid.
And as dangerous as Austin is, the Cyclones had held him to 74 yards rushing and receiving until he sprang the big one.
Much of West Virginia’s damage stemmed from a bruising offensive line clearing gaping holes for all-power, no-flash back Shawne Alston, who rushed for a game-high 130 yards on 19 carries.
His 1-yard touchdown plunge early in the second quarter put the Mountaineers up 10-0 and forced the Cyclones to play catch-up.
“He was a load,” said ISU senior nose tackle Jake McDonough. “He was kind of the one-two punch kind of guy. He was tough to bring down.”
So were the Cyclones, who responded to Alston’s short score with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that culminated in Richardson’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Jerome Tiller.
West Virginia restored a 10-point lead, at 17-7, on Stedman Bailey’s touchdown grab, but ISU battled back again, scoring 18 seconds before halftime on Richardson’s 18-yard strike to Josh Lenz.
“I don’t know if we had any kind of momentum in our favor in that first half,” Rhoads said. “We were battling, but battling from a triage mode. That gave us a really nice spark.”
Austin — as usual — did the same for the Mountaineers, who hadn’t given up fewer than 39 points in a Big 12 game until Friday.
They entered the game as the lowest-rated pass defense in the FBS, but yielded just 162 yards through the air against the Cyclones.
Austin gained 572 all-purpose yards in last week’s loss to Oklahoma.
His big gains Friday were far less frequent, but brutally timed.
“One play, it changed the whole game,” ISU nickelback Deon Broomfield said.
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