How Iowa State Won ACR 7s
How Iowa State Won ACR 7s
Close games dominated the landscape at the weekend's ACR 7s.
Iowa State ran out champions, but there was plenty competition throughout the two-day tournament.
Fresno State beat Nebraska 24-12 in the first round of Pool Play, with Isaiah Kruse of the Bulldogs and Zach Theis of the Cornhuskers both put on some fireworks. Iowa State beat the ACR Selects, while Oregon had to mount a comeback to overhaul ISU over ACR Selects. Oregon come back against UTSA while Minnesota pulled off an upset over Sam Houston State.
So people were on notice that these games were not going to be foregone conclusions.
Iowa State bounced back from a poor performance and blanked Western Washington 35-0, while SHSU also bounced back to beat Sac State. Minnesota was unable to follow up their opening win, as Fresno State beat the Gophers, and in fact Minnesota would not win another pool game.
Oregon won comfortably over the ACR Selects.
Wes Cummings was the key performer for ISU as they squeaked by Ut San Antonio, while Nebraska upended Sam Houston. WWU and Sac State also won in Round 3.
So now with Round 4 on the horizon all eyes were on how the standings would shake out. Iowa State was 3-0, and Oregon 2-0—those two would meet. Meanwhile in Pool B Nebraska was 2-1 and Fresno State was 3-0 going into the final round.
Knowing they were through to the semis regardless, Iowa State shook up their roster against Oregon. The Ducks ran out to a 19-0 lead before Nick Baines kicked ahead and dotted down. Oregon immediately responded just before halftime, but the Cylones stormed back to make it 26-19 in the second half.
That was when Iowa State captain Wes Cummings crossed the tryline but tried to pass back inside to ensure an easier conversion. The pass was intercepted by Oregon and the Ducks held on.
So that set Oregon at 4-0 and Iowa State at 3-1. In Pool B, Sam Houston State salvaged something from a rough Day One with a defeat of Fresno State. Nebraska beat Sac State and that left FSU and Nebraska at 2-1. Fresno State had the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cornhuskers so with everyone else carrying at least two losses,all they needed to do was win over Sac State to clinch 1st in Pool B.
Iowa State, meanwhile, was left to rehash a poor defensive effort in the nearby parking garage and decide how to address things the next day while the final round saw Oregon move to 4-0 with a win over Western Washington. Fresno State beat Sac State and Beraska beat Minnesota to move both to 3-1.
So on to Day Two with Nebraska taking Oregon in one semifinal and ISU taking on Fresno State. The Cyclones had held a coaches and team leaders meeting in the coaches' hotel room and the meeting had addressed dissatisfactions with Day One.
“We got the guys who had been in big moments before and just had honest conversations about what went wrong," said Head Coach Ant Frein. "This group is a special group that’s seen it all together and the open dialogue allowed us to come up with a game plan to not only get ourselves right but also to take on Fresno. The most important thing was after we’d talked we all just stayed in the room, watched basketball, told stories and enjoyed each other's company.”
Sunday started off with Nebraska and Oregon trading blows in the first semifinal, Zach Theis and Lucas Fleming were once again great for Nebraska as the Huskers were able to get the golden try in overtime to advance to their first National Title game in program history.
Next on the docket was ISU v Fresno State, Iowa State immediately went to work on their game plan, which included making sure the always-dangerous Kruse would have no space in which to work. Rowan Collins hit Kruse early on and that jarred the ball loose where it was scooped up by postseason hero Tyler Cahill. Cahill took it in for a try and Iowa State led 7-0.
Fresno State responded to tie the match 7-7 but then ISU's Baines went down with an injury, followed soon thereafter by Tyler Cahill. Without those two key players the Cyclones had some extra work to do.
Baines managed to recover through halftime, but unfortunately Cahill was done for the game. Baines got involved immediately and set up the attack that put Cummings in at the corner. Fresno State again responded but missed the conversion to make the game 14-12, Iowa State leading. Fresno State was able to get around the corner but freshman Ian Klein came out of nowhere and made a tackle to save the day for Cyclones.
Iowa State worked the phases after that the close out the game.
So Iowa State and Nebraska were set for yet another match up in the Championship, the two conference foes have met in the last three Heart of America Championships. While Fresno State downed Oregon for 3rd, both teams prepped for one last showdown.
The action started with Justin Johnson, starting for the injured Tyler Cahill, finding a corner and scoring from 60 meters out. The conversion from the corner was no good and it was 5-0.
Iowa State kept it up; Sam Miller, one of the identical twins on the team and both were excellent all weekend, was able to dot another score in the corner for the Cyclones and it was 10-0.
The Cyclones restart kick bounced into in-goal and Nebraska was awarded a free kick at the midfield. They opted for the scrum and Theis was able to burn around the corner on the weakside to make it 10-5.
An errant pass from ISU was nearly intercepted, but as often happens in 7s a barely-missed interception can often become a penalty and a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on. That's what happened here and Nebraska was down a man.
Baines tapped and went to work with the ball finding him again in the phases and he was able to step and go to make the score 15-5. Nebraska responded and crossed the tryline but Iowa State's Drew Guinn was able to slide in and hold the ball up to send the game to halftime.
Theis was able to burn the Cyclone defense for another try right after the beginning of the 2nd half to bring Nebraska within five.
Both sides then threw everything at each other looked to get that all-important next try. Finally ISU's Sam Miller was able to power down the sideline, shedding tackles, and was tackled inside the 22. Ryan Snider was able to pick and go to inside five meters before Ian Klein, the defensive hero from the semifinal, picked up and scored.
Iowa State led 20-10 and Iowa State defended well after that; finally Nick Gill was able to force a penalty in the ruck and the Cyclones kicked to touch to end the game.
“First off, coaching a game against a role model and a brother like Niko was something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life," said Frein "ISU and Nebraska got to know each other during COVID and the seniors on both sides have nothing but respect for each other. Being able to bounce back from a performance that wasn’t up to our standards in Boulder and a Saturday in pool play that followed the same tread to win the first National Championship in program history is something I’ll forever be proud. I love these boys like my own and to end this chapter of our clubs history with a title is incredible. It was a total team effort this weekend but captain Wes Cummings leaves ISU with the standards for the Skipper sky high.”