Last year the University of Iowa’s football team was considered unlucky. It lost several close ones at the beginning of the season in the last moments of games. In fact, the total margin of defeat for the Hawkeyes' five losses equaled just 12 points. It drove Iowa fans to distraction.
But Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium made up for all the bad luck suffered in 2008.
Iowa ended an extremely tight contest by blocking back-to-back field goal attempts by Northern Iowa, leaving fans on both sides stunned at the result—a 17-16 Hawkeyes victory.
No. 22 Iowa held that 17-16 lead with seven seconds on the clock when the UNI Panthers decided to go for the winning field goal.
Even though it was a first-down play, with time running out, the Panthers went for the win and kicker Billy Hallgren lined up for a 40-yard attempt.
Special teams member Broderick Binns dove and made the block that seemed to save the game for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
However, because the kick came on a first-down attempt and was picked up by a Panther, the ball was still in their possession with one second remaining on the game clock.
Therefore, the Panthers lined up to kick the field goal again. Fans were stunned by this turn of events because, when the first field goal was blocked, the Iowa faithful thought it was over and that Iowa had won.
A gift cannot come twice. Can it?
Hawkeye fans were grimacing as the UNI field goal unit lined up again to kick the winner, this time with only that single tick left on the clock, this time from 50 yards out. And this time, it was linebacker Jeremiha Hunter—the man who accidentally allowed UNI to recover the ball on the previous play—who made the second block to again preserve the victory.
Pat Angerer fell on the ball to make certain UNI would get no more chances.
Anyone who considers the University of Northern Iowa as a cream-puff opponent should be forced to have their favorite team play these Panthers, because they deliver great football regardless of their ranking or reputation. They are well-coached, well-disciplined, and highly skilled...except maybe their field-goal unit.
Iowa started the season, like most football programs, with a few questions. Touted running back Shonn Greene was now a New York Jet, and his replacement, Jewell Hampton, was recently ruled out for the season. Would quarterback Ricky Stanzi be as effective without Greene or some other tested running back?
Defensive leaders Mitch King and Matt Kroul left for the NFL. Would the defense rebound and thrive without them?
Iowa’s defense last year was first in the league. Their offensive line is ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten. Would the team rank as highly in those categories this fall?
All of these questions were to be answered for the first time on Saturday, when Iowa hosted Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. In fact, to mark the occasion, former coaching legend Hayden Fry was on hand to start the festivities.
The Iowa faithful were packed into the stands and ready to welcome the old coach and the Iowa Hawkeyes as they took the field for 2009.
Mark Farley, the Northern Iowa Coach for nine years, runs a very successful football program. Ranked No. 4 in the FCS (Football College Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA), the Panthers are coming off a 12-3 record in 2008.
They reached the NCAA FCS semifinals last year. The last time Northern Iowa beat the University of Iowa was in 1898, when they won by an 11-5 score, playing in Cedar Falls.
Iowa elected to receive the opening kick. The first play from scrimmage was a pass play from Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt, who caught three passes in the opening quarter for 29 yards.
The second play was a handoff to running back Paki O’Meara, who carried the ball six times for 16 yards on the opening drive.
The initial Iowa drive was 52 yards on 14 plays. It ended in an Iowa field goal by Daniel Murray. He kicked a 39-yarder through the uprights, and Iowa led early 3-0.
On Iowa’s second possession, Stanzi was in danger of being sacked. He scrambled but in the process lost the ball. With that, Northern Iowa's defense turned in the first big play of the game, as defensive tackle Chuck Kinney jumped on the Hawkeye fumble at the Iowa 28.
The Panthers, however, were limited to six yards on four plays and settled for a tying 39-yard field goal by Hallgren. By the end of the first quarter, it was all tied up.
The second quarter was all about the Northern Iowa Panthers. They drove 91 yards on 15 plays and ate up 8:24 minutes on the clock. It ended with a diving catch in the end zone by Ryan Mahaffey on a pass from quarterback Pat Grace. The point after was successful and Northern Iowa led at halftime, 10-3.
Iowa was not playing like the No. 21- or 22-ranked team in the nation. Its offense was sluggish and uncertain and its defense was uncharacteristically late to the ball.
Missed tackles and missed assignments are not usually associated with Iowa football. The question was this: Could the Hawkeyes come back against this UNI team, which was playing stellar football?
To highlight the uncertainty, the second half began with a spate of turnovers that ended with Hallgren kicking a 34-yard field goal. Northern Iowa extended its lead, 13-3.
It was down to the wire now. Either put up or shut up for the nationally ranked Hawkeyes. Stanzi came back with an impressive drive, using six plays to go 70 yards and reduce the margin to three.
Stanzi completed four passes for 53 yards, with two to tight end Tony Moeaki for 33 yards. Then it was time for the run.
The first Adam Robinson run was for six yards to the Northern Iowa 11, and the second one took him into the end zone with 9:41 left in the third quarter.
It was now 13-10 in favor of Northern Iowa.
During the fourth quarter, Stanzi seemed to resemble the quarterback who engineered the win in the Outback Bowl. The line was offering more protection and Stanzi seemed more in control. During the next scoring drive, Adam Robinson carried the ball three times for 19 yards and Stanzi completed all four passes for 64 yards.
The recipient of the go-ahead scoring reception was Tony Moeaki from six yards out. This was built on two huge receptions on the drive by Trey Stross for 29 yards and by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for 22.
There were a little over 13 minutes left in the game.
Iowa’s plan was to run out the clock. They were well on their way to doing that when Adam Robinson was stopped for no gain at 4th-and-2 and Iowa had to give the ball back to the Panthers on their own 32-yard line. Twelve plays later, moving the ball 46 yards, the Northern Iowa drive culminated with another 39-yard field goal by Hallgren.
Iowa needed to hold on to that one-point lead, but the Panthers regained possession and went on another 69-yard drive in 11 plays. This set them up for their final desperate attempts—two field goal tries to win the game.
This final effort was without all in vain. The team that lost did not deserve to lose.
Stanzi completed 22-of-34 passes for 242 yards, with one touchdown pass. He was sacked four times.
Tight end Tony Moeaki caught 10 passes for 83 yards, scoring once. Wide receiver Marvin McNutt caught five passes for 48 yards. Adam Robinson was the leading rusher, with 63 yards and a touchdown on 15 attempts.
Defensively, free safety Brett Greenwood and linebacker Pat Angerer each had 12 tackles while Tyler Sash compiled 10. Christian Ballard and Karl Klug both had sacks.
Northern Iowa had 354 yards of offense while Iowa had 329. The Hawkeyes had 19 first downs to 18 by the Panthers. The biggest hero on the day for Iowa was punter Ryan Donahue, who had five kicks for a net average of 43.2 yards and planted four kicks inside the Panthers' 20.
Next Saturday Iowa travels to Ames to meet another in-state rival. The crowds won’t be nearly as friendly. The Iowa State Cyclones are always a big test for the Hawkeyes. "How big?" is the question for Hawkeye fans, who wonder about this shaky start to the campaign.