Nov 7, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy (15) greets his team at the sideline after they converted the extra point to tie the game at 24 during their football game against Baylor at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa State would go on to win 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — He finds hand holds, but never needs his hand held.
His grip, strong. The route, often difficult to impossible. But whatever the chosen path — or obstacles strewn along the way — Iowa State’s record-setting quarterback, Brock Purdy, usually finds a way to the summit, sixty minutes (or more) at a time.
“I’m a faithful guy, so I believe everything’s going to happen for a reason,” Purdy said. “And I’m gonna surrender to the outcome.”
But there’s no giving up when it comes to ambling past adversity or mistakes for Purdy, who threw three interceptions in the first half Saturday against Baylor but rebounded to lead the No. 17 and Big 12-leading Cyclones to a 38-31 triumph before 13,535 socially-distanced fans at Jack Trice Stadium.
Oh, and Purdy tossed touchdowns to Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen and Breece Hall to break a tie atop the program’s record books with former great, Bret Meyer. Purdy now owns a peerless-in-the-program 53 touchdown passes — and what an interesting climb it’s been to achieve that mark.
“It’s pretty fitting,” said ISU head coach Matt Campbell, whose team improved to 5-1 in conference play for the first time in school history. “Brock’s had to come up the rough side of the mountain his entire career. And a night like tonight wasn’t the easy side of the mountain. It was the rough side of the mountain. And Brock, instead of slipping and falling, kept climbing. I think it’s pretty poetic that on a night like tonight where things didn’t maybe start out the best, he kept climbing and persevering.”
Purdy threw an interception on the game’s opening drive, which the Bears (1-4, 1-4) eventually turned into a 7-0 lead.
He threw another interception the ensuing drive, which Baylor — a 14-point underdog — used to craft a 14-0 edge.
And after Hall scored the first of his three touchdowns to narrow the gap to 14-7, Purdy heaved a pick-six to Baylor’s Jalen Pitre and ISU went into halftime down, 24-10.
“Anytime you turn the ball over three times, that’s never a positive,” Campbell said. “I just think it was a matter of reentering. Refocusing. Getting back to fundamentals and technique and then coming back and really executing. That’s what we saw in the second half. I think we’ve shown (we have the) consistency to have the ability to do that — and you know what? Sometimes you’re gonna have nights like that. Sometimes that’s how it’s gonna roll. The key is it can’t roll that way for the entirety of a game if you want to win. … You’ve got to have the ability to respond and if you do and you’ve got that kind of character and talent then you can give yourself a chance to win. I thought our kids did that tonight.”
Purdy trusted himself. His teammates and coaches trusted him. They’ve seen him climb and know he’s capable of erasing myriad mistakes to complete the most technical ascents. He did that again Saturday — becoming the first ISU quarterback to win a game in which he threw three interceptions since the legendary Steele Jantz did it twice in early 2011.
“Just go out, stay in the present, do my job and move on,” Purdy said.
And up. Campbell pulled Purdy aside after the pick-six that put ISU into a deeper hole.
“I just told him, ‘I don’t bet a whole lot, but if I (were) a betting, man, things were not going our way, but at some point, they were probably going to go our way,” said Campbell, whose team overcame a minus-two turnover margin for the second time in his four-plus seasons. “‘Don’t panic, we’re fine.’ The reality is, I thought he did a great job of keeping his composure. We’ll go back and look at the film and determine if they were Brock’s mistakes, were they a wrong route or was it a leakage in protection? But when you’re the quarterback, it’s not easy and you better be a tough hombre. He’s about as tough as I know and as special of a competitor as I’ve ever been around.”
Purdy didn’t climb alone. He had plenty of support at base camp and beyond.
Hall ran for two scores and caught one touchdown pass. Mike Rose sealed the tense win with his third interception of the game. Senior Kene Nwangwu galloped 69 yards on a pivotal kickoff return to set up the Cyclones’ second touchdown. Fellow senior Landen Akers blocked a punt — ISU’s first individual block since 2009 — that set up his team’s final and decisive touchdown and the defense bowed up when it mattered most.
“Obviously we have a lot of seniors who are playing great football,” Purdy said. “Again, we’ve been through these kind of games and situations in the past, so for them to step up on the sideline and tell everybody, ‘Hey, this is what it is. We’ve got to do this.’ It’s an awesome thing. We’re blessed to have that. I think that was really the difference.”
Now the Cyclones are starting to glimpse the other side of the mountain. The path rarely taken, where November can serve as the backdrop for a final summit attempt, instead of an untimely fall.
Campbell — after next week’s final bye — calls it the “third pod.” A set of three games brimming with promise, but also fraught with peril. Winners see past all of that and find the cracks in the rock where a well-placed finger, or a few inches to one side or the other, can make all the difference as they take each step upward — roped in together.
“When you have the caliber of players that we have, in terms of guys who have proven that they can do it at an elite level, then you don’t panic,” Campbell said. “It’s one of those things that I really appreciate about who our team is. Some of the guys who made mistakes tonight are guys that you trust and know they’re going to come right back and you’re going to get their best. Obviously they proved it again tonight and that’s what’s special about life and special about our sport. You’re never defined when things are going great; you’re defined by what you do when things are really tough and really hard. I think those guys showed who they really are in some adverse situations tonight.”