By Rob Gray
AMES — Paul Rhoads hugged Jeremiah George.
The Iowa State football coach had just seen his senior linebacker make an apparent game-saving play in the waning moments of Thursday’s nationally-televised Big 12 season opener against Texas at Jack Trice Stadium.
But appearances — including the Cyclones’ dominance in the running game — turned into a mirage in a draining, punch-to-the-gut 31-30 loss before an angry crowd of 52,762.
And the ire spread.
“I’ve got the privilege as the head football coach of this football program to face my players — win or lose — and look them in the eye,” a defiant Rhoads said. “And feel how proud I am of the work they put forth and the effort they gave tonight. And to make a play at the one-yard line. With our backs against the wall. Clear to everybody — and have it taken away from them, that’s hard to express.”
Texas running back Johnathan Gray had been ruled down before George’s strip, which would have likely preserved one of the signature upset wins Rhoads and his team is well-known for.
An official review followed.
One minute, eight seconds remained.
History — a possible first ISU home win over the Longhorns — hung in the balance.
Rhoads heard the same thing everyone else did: “the call was confirmed.”
That, in his view, didn’t make it correct.
Not by a long shot.
“The whistle never blew,” George said.
Case McCoy eased into the end zone less than 30 seconds — and another Gray fumble — later.
“I’ve got pretty good eyesight,” Rhoads said after his team fell to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in league play. “The view I had of that gigantic screen in the North end zone showed a player that was not down and our guy with the football.”
The Cyclones could drive no further than the Texas 42-yard line on the game’s final drive.
It was a bitter end to what Rhoads referred to as a game featuring a couple teams “playing their hearts out.”
Big plays abounded.
Power football — for ISU anyway — reigned.
The Cyclones rushed 50 times for 201 yards.
Texas (3-2, 2-0), ran 29 times for 119, or nearly 100 yards below its average.
ISU’s main man was Mr. One-Cut, tailback Aaron Wimberly.
He rushed 29 times for 117 yards and a touchdown.
“I try to make a play,” Winberly said after his second straight 100-yard effort.
He also caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first half.
“He’s a man,” Rhoads said.
It’s a description the fiery coach draped across his entire team, which fell to 1-10 all-time against the Longhorns but played harder and looked stronger most of the game on the interior.
But that play, the non-fumble … it lingers.
“There was no whistle on the play,” safety Jacques Washington said. “Obviously, they let him keep driving. It was a goal line play — (Gray) was still pushing … We were still playing. The game was still on. They didn’t (blow) the whistle until Jeremiah was about 10 yards down the field. But that’s how it goes sometimes.”
ISU quarterback Sam Richardson completed 16 of 26 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns and a fluke interception to end the game.
His biggest play, a slant to receiver Quenton Bundrage, spanned 97 yards and ended in the end zone.
It was the longest passing play from scrimmage in Cyclone history.
“You see our skill set,” said Richardson, who added the pain in his right ankle was “pretty agonizing” at times during the game. “You see who we can hang with. It’s the Texas Longhorns, a pretty skilled team if you ask me. You’ve just got to take it from there.”
Bundrage’s big play put ISU ahead 20-17 in a see-saw second half in which the lead changed four times.
The fourth came with controversy attached — and Rhoads will be keenly interested to see what comes out of the league office in the coming days.
“I’m sure they will come forward with what they feel the play should have been called,” he said.