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Brock Purdy, Jalen Hurts set for college-era rematch in NFC title Sunday

In heart of Eagles country, family of 49ers Mike McGlinchey root for S.F.
In heart of Eagles country, family of 49ers Mike McGlinchey root for S.F. 03:13

PHILADELPHIA -- Jalen Hurts and Brock Purdy could be primed for a shootout in the NFC championship game.

It's the first time Hurts — the league MVP finalist for the Philadelphia Eagles — and Purdy, the " Mr. Irrelevant " rookie sensation for the San Francisco 49ers, have matched up in the NFL. And it's a doozy, with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake.

Brock Purdy; Jalen Hurts
(Left) 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy at practice in Santa Clara Jan. 26, 2023. (Right) Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts runs for a touchdown against Giants Jan. 21, 2023, in Philadelphia.  AP Photos by Jeff Chiu and Matt Rourke

But the two young quarterbacks have gone head-to-head before, in a game that was among the best in the 2019 college football season. Hurts passed for three touchdowns and ran for two more scores for Oklahoma, and Purdy passed for five touchdowns for Iowa State. Purdy's No. 9 Sooners came out on top, 42-41, on Nov. 9, 2019 in Norman, Oklahoma.

"It was almost like you had to score every single time you had the ball," Purdy recalled this week.

His stint with the Cyclones had a story that has pretty much been replicated in San Francisco.

As a freshman in 2018, Purdy played so well, so quickly that incumbent starter sophomore Zeb Noland decided to play elsewhere just a month into the season. Purdy took over in the fifth game of the season and led the Cyclones to a 7-2 record and a trip to the Alamo Bowl. He was the first true freshman quarterback to start a game for Iowa State since 1995 and finished with a team bowl-record 315 yards passing against Washington State in the bowl game.

Eagles defensive end Matt Leo, on the team's practice squad, played for three seasons with Purdy at Iowa State.

"I remember when he came in straight out of high school, he was already working out before the semester even started," Leo said. "Seeing that competitive nature in him, I knew the kind of tone he was going to bring to the team. And he did."

Fast forward to 2022, when Purdy was the last player drafted, yet made the 49ers' roster as the third-string QB and improbably took over after Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo both got hurt. Purdy is now the third rookie quarterback ever to win two NFL playoff starts, the fifth to reach the conference title game as a starter and will look to be the first to reach the Super Bowl.

For all his success, it's still easy to think about the game against Hurts that slipped away.

Purdy led the Cyclones back from a 42-21 hole in the second half and pulled them within one when he found Charlie Kolar for a 13-yard touchdown pass in the final minute. Trying for a win that would boost their Big 12 title game chances, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell called for a two-point conversion. The gamble failed. Parnell Motley intercepted Purdy's two-point conversion pass with 24 seconds left.

Hurts passed for 273 yards and ran for 68 yards. Purdy passed for 282 yards and rushed for 55 yards.

"Yeah, I thought it was a completion," Purdy said. "Obviously, it sucked not getting the completion and the game being over. That was that."

Until they meet again.

Leo said the 23-year-old's performances in big NFL games made it hard for him to believe Purdy was the ninth QB picked in the draft: "He showed everyone that he's 'Mr. Relevant,'" he said, laughing. "I'm so happy for him and an old teammate, as well. I still root for him. But this week, no."

The 24-year-old Hurts had his own travails in three seasons at Alabama, which included getting benched at halftime of the 2018 national championship game. Hurts used his final year of eligibility to transfer to Oklahoma and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting.

Hurts said he remembers how impressive Purdy was in that 2019 game.

"I have a lot of respect for (Purdy). He's always been a really good player," Hurts said. "He has a lot of moxie, he makes plays and he's been doing that since college, so there's no surprise when he was given this opportunity to see the success he's having now."

The game also gave Purdy a taste of what it was like to play on the road in front of 83,541 fans.

Since then, Purdy faced a loud crowd in a playoff win at Seattle — but few atmospheres rival the rowdiness ahead in Philly. That night in Norman came close.

"I think that was just a great experience for me to go back to and remember how I felt, what was going through my mind, how did it affect my decisions," Purdy said.

On Sunday, he hopes it's the kind of performance that leads to a Super Bowl.

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