AMES | This one might hurt Iowa State the most.
The Cyclones (1-8) got a tremendous effort from its defense and special teams, and their offense did just enough to be effective.
But Trevone Boykin scored his third rushing touchdown with 38 seconds left as TCU (4-6) rallied late to top Iowa State, 21-17, Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in the Cyclones' 101st Homecoming game.
"I've had this feeling a couple of times this year with ... Texas, Texas Tech ... it's just like somebody knocking the wind out of you and trying to catch your breath," senior linebacker Jeremiah George said.
After taking it hard on the chin in each of its last three games, losses by a combined score of 170 to 41, Iowa State gave a spirited effort for a crowd of 54,922 from start to finish.
"It was emotional," safety Deon Broomfield said of the post-game locker room. "We were really invested in this game. One of the five things coach brought to us on Tuesday was being an emotional team ... so it was pretty emotional. It really hurts ... it's bad."
The Cyclones trailed 14-7 at halftime, but DeVondrick Nealy returned the second-half kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown as ISU dominated most of the final 30 minutes. The Cyclones took its first lead since the fourth quarter of its 31-30 loss to Texas on Oct. 3, when Cole Netten booted a 35-yard field goal with 1:33 left in the third quarter.
The defense then forced three straight three-and-outs by the Horned Frogs and the offense moved the ball just enough to chew up time.
ISU really had TCU on its heels with 5:18 left. The Horned Frogs had been pinned at their own 1 after a 47-yard Kirby Van Der Kamp punt, but Casey Pachall hit Brandon Carter for 33 yards on TCU's first play, and then connected with LaDarius Brown for 46 to the ISU 23.
But after a couple ineffective runs, Pachall tried to hit Carter on a quick slant over the middle and Carter was blown up by Jevohn Miller as the ball skipped out of his hands into those of George for an interception.
"I was very happy for Jevohn Miller," George said. "Jevohn's stepped up and he's played some incredible football the last couple of weeks. That was a big play to get the momentum back in our favor after they had two big pass plays."
However, in a season where it seems ISU has fallen a play short here and there, it happened again. The Cyclones quickly moved to its own 40 after the George interception, but on 3rd-and-5, a Sam Richardson pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage and Van Der Kamp followed with his worst punt, a shank of 17 yards to the TCU 42.
"One more first down ... one more first down and extend the clock by about another minute plus ... really make it hard on them and put a lot of pressure on them to operate with great precision," Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads said of what needed to happen late.
ISU's defense nearly rose to the occasion again, but the TCU finally found life with its ground game. The Cyclones had held TCU to 81 yards on 35 carries, until Aaron Green broke off a run for 22 yards on a 3rd-and-1 from the ISU 49. Then on 3rd-and-3 from the ISU 20, Green ripped off a 17-yard run to set up a 1st-and-goal with 52 seconds left.
"We just had too many tackles on that drive," George said. "We talked about tacking aggressively and I think especially myself, I came around the corner (on the 22-yard run) and I was kind of on my heels and I was trying to stay inside. But I kind of lunged."
Boykin's game winner came on a 3rd-and-1 as he took an option left and spun out of a tackle at the goal line. Boykin, who started five games for TCU at quarterback while Pachall was hurt, played a handful of plays at quarterback, almost all of them designed runs.
He had scoring runs of 18 and 3 in the first half as TCU built a 14-7 halftime lead. Both touchdowns came after big breaks for the Horned Frogs.
ISU's Albert Gary muffed a bouncing punt and TCU recovered on the Cyclone 23. On a third-and-long, Boykin weaved his way in and out of several ISU defenders to give the Horned Frogs a 7-0 lead with 5:09 to go in the first quarter.
The Cyclones tied it on their lone sustained drive of the first half, a 8-play, 59-yard drive that saw Richardson scrambled 15 yards to tie it with 12:44 until half. That carry was Richardson's first touch of the game as freshman Grant Rohach got the start and played most of the game.
After the Richardson touchdown, TCU quickly drove down the field and on 2nd-and-10 from the 36, Pachall hit Carter for 33 yards to the ISU 3. It was a controversial play as it appeared Carter ran out of bounds for several yards before coming back in to catch it. But the officials on the field ruled Carter was forced out of bounds by Cyclone defensive back and Nigel Tribune and was eligible to come back into the field of play and make the catch.
"I heard what you heard, and it is hard to here the ref with the way the wind was blowing, but I think he confirmed that he was indeed pushed out of bounds," Rhoads described of what he was told on the sidelines.
In the end it was another play that added up to the Cyclones sixth-consecutive loss and possibly its most painful.
"I wish I could put into words the pain associated with a loss like this," Rhoads said. "With all those young men and everybody in the program working so hard for success. For all our fans, you show up being 1-7, haven't won a game in your stadium all season long and have a crowd like that and support like that, there's only one Cyclone Nation.
"There's only one program in the country that can do that at 1-7 and that's ours with a fantastic, loyal fan base that I can't thank enough."