AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy’s eyes lit up when he saw a potential game-losing fumble floating aimlessly near the goal line.

The sophomore sprang into action, snapping up Sheldon Croney’s triple-overtime miscue and saving the Cyclones from a devastating defeat — even by their standards.

Croney scored from a yard out on the next play, and 21st-ranked Iowa State rallied to edge past FCS school Northern Iowa 29-26 on Saturday.

La’Michael Pettway had a pair of touchdown catches for the Cyclones (1-0), who barely survived a massive upset after entering the year ranked for the first time since 1978.

Croney fumbled just shy of the end zone on the second-to-last play of the game. But Purdy saw the ball bounce out, and he sprinted from the backfield to recover it at the 1 in perhaps the biggest play of his impressive young career.

“I saw who was underneath the pile, so I knew who would come up with it. Doesn’t that tell you what he is about?” Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said about Purdy’s heads-up play. “When I saw him there I thought we were going to be in great shape.”

For four quarters and nearly three extra sessions, though, the last thing the Cyclones were in was great shape.

Iowa State had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Connor Assalley with 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter simply to force overtime. Purdy had a touchdown run called back because of holding before that kick.

After the teams traded field goals in the first overtime, Purdy found Pettway — a graduate transfer from Arkansas in his Iowa State debut — in the back of the end zone. But Northern Iowa pulled even at 23-all after freshman Will McElvain scrambled long enough to free up Trevor Allen for a 7-yard TD catch on a ball that traveled at least 40 yards.

Iowa State forced Northern Iowa into a field goal to start the third overtime, and Purdy completed three straight passes to set up a hectic finish.

“I don’t know if the defense really saw it,” Purdy said of his fumble recovery. “I had probably the best angle on it. It was pretty scary. I’m not going to lie.”

The Cyclones were the second ranked team to win an overtime game against an FCS opponent. Auburn held off Jacksonville State 27-20 in 2015.

“That’s why I love coaching in this game. It demands you being your best right out of the gate,” Campbell said.

McElvain finished with 228 yards passing and a touchdown in his collegiate debut.

Purdy threw for 278 yards while completing 30 of 41 passes. Deshaunte Jones caught 14 balls, the second-most in school history, for 126 yards for Iowa State.

N. Iowa..........0 0 13 0 3 7 3—26

At Iowa St.......3 0 7 3 3 7 6—29

First Quarter

ISU: FG Assalley 42, :53

Third Quarter

UNI: FG Cook 50, 12:56

ISU: Pettway 7 pass from Purdy (Assalley kick), 8:31

UNI: FG Cook 31, 1:44

UNI: X.Williams 53 fumble return (Cook kick), :06

Fourth Quarter

ISU: FG Assalley 23, :59

First Overtime

UNI: FG Cook 49, :00

ISU: FG Assalley 22, :00

Second Overtime

ISU: Pettway 9 pass from Purdy (Assalley kick), :00

UNI: T.Allen 7 pass from McElvain (Cook kick), :00

Third Overtime

UNI: FG Cook 28, :00

ISU: Croney 1 run, :00

A: 61,500.

UNI ISU

First downs 17 26

Rushes-yards 31-34 45-185

Passing 228 278

Comp-Att-Int 25-42-0 30-41-0

Return Yards 43 23

Punts-Avg. 6-39.5 3-38.33

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 2-1

Penalties-Yards 5-50 5-50

Time of Possession 27:55 32:05

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing: N. Iowa, T.Allen 15-26, Soko 6-5, James 1-3, McElvain 9-0. Iowa St., Lang 14-60, Croney 13-56, Hall 11-47, Nwangwu 4-30, D.Jones 1-3, Purdy 2-(minus 11).

Passing: N. Iowa, McElvain 25-42-0 228. Iowa St., Purdy 30-41-0 278.

Receiving: N. Iowa, McShane 7-38, Bohr 5-43, Moore 4-26, James 3-37, Weston 2-48, T.Allen 2-26, Rima 1-7, Soko 1-3. Iowa St., D.Jones 14-126, C.Kolar 4-45, Pettway 3-26, Croney 3-23, Milton 2-18, Akers 1-21, Soehner 1-11, Wilson 1-4, C.Allen 1-4.

Missed field goals: Iowa St., Assalley 31.

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