In front of likely the slimmest crowd in the game’s 50-year history, the No. 10 Iowa State Cyclones defeated the No. 25 Oregon Ducks in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale Saturday, Jan. 2.
The Westgate bars and restaurants had some foot traffic, but not unlike any other Saturday.
There was no sea of team colors in the stadium parking lots. Where in years past there might have been hundreds of portable grills and beer, there were a handful of cars parked with cones spacing each vehicle several feet away from the others.
About 2,000 total tickets were given out to the players’ and coaches’ families, according to Fiesta Bowl staff, but there were likely as many cardboard cutouts of PlayStation characters lining the two end zones as there were fans in the lower section of the stands.
Where thousands of screaming fans traditionally packed the stadium, in 2021 players celebrated touchdowns alongside Spider-Man and Sonic the Hedgehog cutouts.
The game—perhaps appropriately with a subdued crowd—was not as thrilling as past versions of the Fiesta Bowl. Iowa State took an 11-point lead into halftime and shut the Ducks out while scoring six more points in the second half to win by 17 in the end.
There was still plenty of local intrigue surrounding the game, though. The starting quarterbacks of both teams went to high school in Arizona.
Junior Brock Purdy of Iowa State and redshirt sophomore Tyler Shough of Oregon went to Gilbert Perry and Chandler Hamilton, respectively.
The two played against each other in high school, as both high schools are part of the Chandler Unified School District, and the pair trains together in the summers.
Purdy said he grew up watching and attending Fiesta Bowls as a youth football player. To play in and win one was, he said, a special experience.
“When I went out to the field to warm up, I knew I was home. To be able to play on the field, it was amazing,” Purdy said postgame.
Purdy won the game’s offensive MVP in the victory, as his 156 yards and two total touchdowns (one pass, one rush) did not tell the full story of how important his leadership and contributions to the game were.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said he was enthused for his quarterback to receive the honor.
“Without Brock Purdy, there’s no Fiesta Bowl, there’s no Iowa State. We are who we are because of the leadership and the character and the humility of Brock Purdy,” Campbell said.
“I couldn’t think of a greater way for Brock to end his junior year, and I couldn’t think of a greater way for this football team to etch its name in the history books of Iowa State football than for Brock Purdy to come home and to win the Fiesta Bowl and be the offensive MVP. And so I’m so happy for him,” he added.
On the other side, Shough started the game and led the Ducks to an opening-drive touchdown but was relegated to the bench for the late stages of the game. The two teams traded long offensive drives early on, including a 98-yard methodical drive late in the second quarter by Oregon redshirt senior Anthony Brown. He capped the long run of plays off with a 16-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14-14.
A pair of one-yard touchdown rushes by Iowa State’s Purdy and running back Breece Hall late in the second quarter gave the Cyclones the lead at halftime. And neither Oregon quarterback could lead the team to points in the second half to trim the lead.
“Of course I’m disappointed. We lost the game. You’re always going to be disappointed when you lose and especially when you come back home. A lot of people came out to watch. I’m definitely sorry for them. But it is what it is when you lose a football game,” Shough said.
Iowa State’s defense and special teams caused four turnovers, along with shutting the Ducks out in the second half. Linebacker Mike Rose intercepted a Shough pass in the fourth quarter, allowing the Cyclones to run the ball and clock out. Purdy knelt out the clock, and the Cyclones celebrated a bowl victory.
Rose, speaking both of his unit’s play the win, said Saturday’s performance bodes well for the Cyclones in seasons ahead.
“I would just say it’s been a long time coming for this program, and everyone has worked their butt off here. It’s really just special. But we’ve been trying to raise the standard here, and hopefully we can keep this going in future years. The emotions right now are crazy,” Rose said.