IOWA CITY – It took an extra period of overtime, but the Iowa Hawkeyes may have finally shed their label of not being a closer.
Loser of its past two games despite leading at halftime, Iowa came in like a lamb but closed like a lion in clamping down on the Northwestern Wildcats, 17-10, Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2) took a halftime lead for the eighth consecutive game, but it was the extra intermission break that they needed to pull out the victory. Tied at 10 at the end of regulation, Iowa marched 25 yards in four plays and capped its overtime possession with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Jake Rudock to C.J. Fiedorowicz. With two blitzers in his face, Rudock laid a beautiful pass over the outstretched arms of a Northwestern defender and into the hands of Fiedorowicz in the corner of the end zone.
And when the Iowa defense sacked Kain Colter on fourth down two minutes later, the Iowa players and coaching staff poured onto the field in a mixture of celebration, jubilation and relief.
“I think it’s just understanding how hard it is to get wins,” Rudock said of the field rush. “This is all the work in the off-season, the work all week, just focusing on we want the win.”
Iowa, losers of six straight games last season, looked like they might be in freefall again this season. The Hawks played well against Michigan State and Ohio State the past two weeks but had nothing but losses to show for it. Rumblings were starting to be heard that the Hawkeyes were having trouble closing out opponents in the second half. Apparently the Iowa players and coaches heard the same rumblings.
“We talked about it before the game and also at halftime,” wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “Last week we were up at halftime. We didn’t want to repeat that this week, so Coach Ferentz, he made sure he let us know, ‘Hey, this is the same opportunity, let’s improve.’ And we did that.”
Iowa scored for the second consecutive game on its opening possession. Running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock shouldered the load, combining for 53 yards rushing on the drive. After three long scoring drives last week against Ohio State, the Hawks did it again. This time it was 14 plays and 74 yards. Bullock scored from 3 yards and Mike Meyer added the PAT to make it 7-0.
Iowa’s defense stuffed the Wildcats on their opening drive. The Hawks seemed to confuse Colter on third down when they lined up with no down lineman. Linebacker James Morris broke loose up the middle and sacked Colter for a 3-yard loss to force a punt.
Iowa went back to work on its first possession of the second quarter. Rudock completed a pair of nice out throws to Tevaun Smith that took the Hawkeyes down the Northwestern 23-yard line. After a pair of short runs, Rudock misfired on a corner pattern to Martin-Manley, which forced the Hawks to settle for a 38-yard field goal by Meyer and a 10-0 lead.
Meyer missed a 42-yard field goal attempt with 4:58 remaining that would have given Iowa a three-point lead. Earlier in the game Meyer became the second-leading scorer in Iowa history.
Northwestern (4-4, 0-4) pulled to 10-7 with 4:44 remaining in the third. After an Iowa punt, the Wildcats drove 81 yards behind the passing and running of Colter and split back Dan Vitale. The two hooked up on a 31-yard pass play to the Iowa 47. Six plays later they did it again, this time from 10 yards and a touchdown.
Colter appeared to injure his knee and left the game at about the 14 minute mark in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by Trevor Siemian, who promptly led the Wildcats to the tying field goal, a 29-yarder by Jeff Budzien.
Colter returned to the game with 4 minutes remaining.
Desmond King played well on defense for the Hawks, including a fumble recovery on the 50-yard line by Mike Trumpy with 3:14 remaining.