By Ben Visser, Gazette Correspondent
MEMPHIS, Tenn. ? It was different this time.
Iowa State (8-5) led No. 20 Memphis (10-3, 7-1 AAC) 21-20 late in Saturday?s Liberty Bowl. Running back David Montgomery got the ball on 3rd and 1 and rumbled forward, like he usually does. He crossed the goal line, but before he did, he was stripped. Memphis recovered.
On the Tigers? ensuing possession, the Cyclones had them 3rd down and 10. Cornerback Brian Peavy touched receiver Anthony Miller, who went down immediately.
Pass interference. Fresh set of downs.
But it was different this time.
Earlier this season, Iowa State loses this game.
In years prior, Iowa State loses this game.
But it was different this time.
Iowa State beat Memphis 21-20 for its first bowl win since 2009.
?The reason this win was special wasn?t because it was a bowl game, in my honest opinion,? ISU Coach Matt Campbell said. ?It?s really because this team has really learned and grew as this season went on.
?In a very similar-type situation, a 50-50 call, late in the game, goes against us and we end up losing a heartbreaking football game at the end of the year [against Kansas State]. This team had multiple opportunities to turn it down and go the other way and just quit. Unfortunately, that happens today in our society when you deal with 18 to 22-year-olds and the emotion that losing games can cause. This team has never done that.?
The reason is the seniors on Iowa State?s team ? specifically do-everything linebacker and quarterback Joel Lanning and all-time great receiver Allen Lazard.
Each of them saved their best for last. Lanning ran for a touchdown, iced the game with a nine-yard first-down run, recorded four tackles and one sack.
Lanning was his normal, uber-humble self after the game.
?They?re not asking a lot of me, you can obviously see that,? Lanning said. ?Just come in on short-yardage and goal-line situations.?
?To me, Joel Lanning is the greatest Cyclone of all time,? Lazard said. ?Everything that he?s done for this program and the sacrifices that he?s made not only to switch positions, but switch sides of the ball, to be so fluent with it and have the success that he?s had ? it?s unbelievable. I?m honored and very privileged to call him one of my best friends and sit here and play with him.?
Lazard tied a Liberty Bowl record with 10 receptions. He also had 142 yards and a touchdown. The touchdown was his 10th, which broke Iowa State?s single-season touchdown reception record ? he was tied with Todd Blythe at nine.
?We room together on away trips,? Lanning said. ?We were together all week this week. It?s an honor to play next to him to see how he practices and prepares. I?m learning off of him, obviously on the defensive side. It?s awesome to play next to one of the greatest receivers to go through Iowa State.?
Campbell said he choked up at their team meetings on Friday when he addressed his team. It?s as special of a group that he?s been around.
?When we came in here two years ago, I?ve never been around a group of kids that I just felt like hope was missing,? Campbell said. ?I think for me, we were constantly trying to figure out how we were going to create hope and how we were going to get this thing turned around. As a coach, you can do as much you want, but until the players really buy in and take ownership in the program ? coaching is way overrated, to be honest.
?The reality of it is, it?s players. That?s what football?s about. Football is a really funny sport that way. This group is as resilient and as tough as any group of young men that I?ve ever been around.?
It was different this time.
?It?s really been an honor to coach them. We think we change their lives, but it?s really ? what I love about coaching ? is we get the opportunity to be taught by our seniors,? Campbell said. ?How these kids act and carry themselves is maybe as special as I?ve been around.
?I wish it wasn?t ending. I wish we had more to play with this group. The excitement for me is what the foundation is going forward.?
It was different this time. Iowa state flipped the script.