For the second week in a row, Iowa State linebacker Marcel Spears made a timely play that secured a win.
Last week it was a pick-six at Texas Tech. This week it was the somersault interception in the waning minutes against TCU.
Somehow, ISU coach Matt Campbell said, it wasn’t even the most crucial takeaway of the afternoon.
“The red zone stop down on the goal-line,” Campbell said after No. 25 ISU’s 14-7 win against No. 4 TCU on Saturday, “is the difference.”
Spears’ pick, no doubt, sealed the game and will be one ISU (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) will remember for a long time. But in a low-scoring, seven-point contest — in which none of the scoring took place in the final 29 minutes, 48 seconds — an interception at the goal line looms large.
ISU quarterback Kyle Kempt threw his only pick of the day less than five minutes into the third quarter, and the Horned Frogs (7-1, 4-1) step up on the positive side of midfield. Quarterback Kenny Hill engineered a six-play drive that took TCU to the ISU seven-yard line facing 3rd-and-six.
Hill dropped back and looked left, overshot his receiver and ISU cornerback Brian Peavy darted back to the outside. Peavy wrangled in the errant pass and took off running. He went 70 yards down the right side before he was caught, stifling a TCU drive that looked destined to end in a score.
“They’re playing (all out) every single play,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “I’m a little bitter about Peavy not scoring. They always say Texas guys are really fast and stuff, but I think I could have scored on that one. I’m going to have to give him some crap for that.”
ISU won the turnover margin 3-1 — 6-0 when doing so this season — and has held its opponents to 20 offensive points spanning the last 14 quarters. TCU’s KaVontae Turpin had a 94-yard kickoff return touchdown to open the second half.
The Cyclones’ next big stand came midway through the fourth quarter. ISU had already punted twice in the first four minutes of the fourth, and TCU started another methodical drive downfield.
Hill had the Horned Frogs set up 2nd-and-goal at the three-yard line. He kept an option and dropped back looking to pass. Hill made one ISU defender miss before defensive end JaQuan Bailey and Willie Harvey smothered him, knocking the ball lose. J.D. Waggoner pounced.
“It’s a huge momentum swing,” Waggoner said. “It’s something you try to do in practice, a (go-hard) attitude. A bend, not break attitude.”
TCU gained 307 yards of offense and had possession for 27 minutes, 39 seconds, but only got inside the red zone twice. Both times were in the second half and resulted in turnovers.
ISU has held all five Big 12 opponents under their season-scoring averages — TCU came in averaging almost 42 points per game.
“It was almost like the Tech game,” Kempt said, “where we were rolling in the first half and came out kind of sluggish and our defense was able to close the game out for us. It’s just great knowing they have our back at all times and we have their back too.”
Spears’ interception, with less than 90 seconds left, may not have been touchdown-saving like the other two takeaways, but it did help ISU cap its best month in school history.
The Cyclones continue their best start since 2002, have won four-straight conference games for the first time since 2005 and beat the second and third top-five opponents in school history.
“When I caught it, I was like, ‘It’s over,’” Spears said. “I can’t even explain what was going through my head. It’s something I’m going to remember forever.”