Based on the wild celebration by Iowa State’s players, coaches and fans, a bowl win was well worth the wait. The Cyclones defeated Pittsburgh, 37–29 for the first bowl victory in school history!
Euphoric Iowa State fans stormed the field, tore down the goal posts and ripped up of the turf moments as Cyclones’ Head Coach Dan McCarney received a post-game Gatorade shower from his players.
Quarterback Sage Rosenfels threw a pair of touchdowns and JaMaine Billups had a key 72-yard punt return for a score to lead Iowa State to its first nine-win season in 94 years in the first Cactus Bowl played at Chase Field.
Iowa State had appeared in only four bowl games prior to the 12th Annual Cactus Bowl, losing the 1978 Hall of Fame Bowl to Texas A&M, the 1977 Peach Bowl to North Carolina State, the 1972 Liberty Bowl to Georgia Tech and the 1971 Sun Bowl to LSU.
But, on this night, the Cyclones would not be denied. After falling behind 7–0, Iowa State scored four consecutive touchdowns as Rosenfels threw for scores of 23 and 9 yards to Chris Anthony and Joe Woodley and Ennis Haywood each added short touchdown runs.
Pittsburgh rallied to pull within 27–20 with 2:05 remaining in the third quarter following John Turman’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Bryant, winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the nation.
But in the first minute of the fourth quarter, Billups took a punt and raced down the right sideline for Iowa State’s first punt return for a score in a bowl game and its first overall in eight seasons to give the Cyclones a commanding 34–20 lead.
Rosenfels, who was named offensive player of the game, completed 23 of 34 passes for 308 yards. Pittsburgh also had its share of offensive stars with Turman (347 yards passing), Kevan Barlow (114 yards rushing) and Bryant (155 yards receiving) leading the way.