Arizona sports fans should consider themselves among the luckiest in the country. Not only do we get to enjoy hosting major events like the Super Bowl and Final Four, but we get to watch two of the best football teams in the nation battle it out in the Fiesta Bowl every season. This year’s edition was special for two reasons. First, it marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Fiesta Bowl. And second, there was plenty of local Arizona flavor in this year’s game between the Iowa State Cyclones and Oregon Ducks.

Entering Saturday’s contest, the focus was on both starting quarterbacks; Brock Purdy (ISU) and Tyler Shough (ORE). Purdy played high school football at Perry High School in Gilbert, while Shough started at Hamilton High School in Chandler. In fact, they squared off head-to-head four times in high school, with Purdy emerging victorious all four times, including two Conference 6A playoff games.

As Purdy walked out for the coin toss, he was met by standout Oregon wide receiver Johnny Johnson III, who is a projected mid-round NFL draft pick. Johnson played his high school ball at Chandler High School in Arizona, squaring off with both Purdy and Shough during his time in the Wolves program.

Nevertheless, the Iowa State Cyclones took it to the Oregon Ducks from the opening kickoff. Purdy went 5-for-6 for 35 yards during the first drive that was capped off with a Breece Hall 1-yard touchdown run to take an early lead. From that point forward, it seemed like the Iowa State offense was on the field all game long.

The Cyclones dominated every facet of the game, turning the Ducks over multiple times on offense and special teams. Purdy finished with 199 total yards and two touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground. His performance was good enough to earn Fiesta Bowl MVP honors in his first game back in Arizona since high school. Afterwards, he reflected on his experience at Perry and how it prepared him to create something special at Iowa State.

Only about 900 fans were allowed in State Farm Stadium in Glendale for the 50th Fiesta Bowl. (Photo by Paul Schaum, AZ Big Media)

Shough replaced, Johnson III limited for Oregon

On the flip side, Shough entered Saturday’s game as the starter for the Oregon Ducks but was replaced early on by backup Anthony Brown. Shough played well early on, starting 3-for-3 and moving the ball down the field. Brown capped off the opening Ducks drive with a rushing touchdown and took over from that point forward.

Shough rotated in a few more times throughout the game, including the final Oregon drive that ended with a game-ending interception by Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose.

Johnny Johnson III led the Ducks with four receptions and 41 receiving yards but was unable to make any big splash plays to shift the momentum in Oregon’s direction. It remains to be seen whether or not Johnson decides to return to Oregon for one final season or opt to enter the NFL Draft.

50th anniversary spoiled by pandemic

Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to avoid addressing the elephant in the room… or should I say stadium?

Prior to the pandemic uprooting life as we know it, this was meant to be a special year for the Fiesta Bowl, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the prestigious sporting event. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out that way.

Instead, there were no parades or celebrations. In fact, there were barely any fans in the stadium at all. Big plays didn’t feel the same. The atmosphere didn’t feel like a New Year’s Six bowl. Overall, it wasn’t the same as years past, but that does not take anything away from the performance of the Iowa State Cyclones and hometown hero, Brock Purdy.