Iowa’s last gasp puts Hawkeyes’ crowd on edge

David La

IOWA CITY— In a scene eerily reminiscent to the one at State College, Penn., two weeks ago, Minnesota’s win at Iowa (1-10, 0-8 Big Ten) came down to the last drive.
But this time, the Gophers (8-3, 5-3) defense found itself burdened with the responsibility of ensuring the win.
Late in the fourth quarter, Minnesota kicker Dan Nystrom booted his third field goal of the day to make the score 25-21.
The ensuing kickoff to the Iowa 22-yard line gave the Hawkeyes 78 yards to go with 3:27 remaining in the game.
“We went to a hurry-up offense,” Iowa quarterback Scott Mullen said, “getting plays in and out as quick as we could. Instead of throwing every play, we got some runs in there and mixed it up pretty good.”
Mullen led the acupuncture offense, hitting four different receivers in the creases and crevices of the Gophers defense on the final drive.
With each catch, each advancement toward their woebegone team’s first conference win of the season, the crowd of 55,386 Iowa faithful intensified its support throughout Kinnick Stadium.
The proud were smiling, just grateful for the effort given by their team. The believers were conferring amongst themselves, acknowledging a positive play and conspiring on what play should come next.
The hopeful were holding their folded hands in the chance divine intervention would produce a touchdown. The fans hardened by a dismal season waited with passive faces for the Hawkeyes to screw up again.
On the field, a far more simplified scenario began to shape up. To win, Iowa needed a touchdown. To avoid losing, Minnesota needed to stop the Hawkeyes from scoring a touchdown.
Field general Mullen told his teammates, “Basically not to panic, not to get ahead of ourselves and just collect ourselves every play in the huddle.”
That composure led to the collection of yards for the Hawkeyes, whose plays put them one step ahead of Gophers defenders.
Things got serious when receiver Kevin Kasper caught a 17-yard pass that brought Iowa to the Minnesota 5-yard line.
The premonitions of the cynical Hawkeyes fans were proved right. The offense incurred a 5-yard illegal procedure penalty on the next play.
After two consecutive incomplete passes, fullback Rob Thein got lose on a shovel pass for seven yards.
With 12 seconds to go, Iowa called a timeout. When play convened, the Hawkeyes faced a fourth-and-three situation.
Receiver Ryan Barton ran his crossing pattern to the open middle of the field, and Mullen let fly in his direction.
That’s when Sean Hoffman, a linebacker with a background in hockey and track, made a basketball-inspired tip of the ball. The pass fell incomplete, Minnesota won.
“I’m just glad in hit my hand,” Hoffman said. “It feels good when you have a part in stopping it.”
In a year of Big Ten upsets, Hoffman’s deflection ensured Iowa didn’t get one. Though not for a lack of effort Saturday.
“It was evident by the way the game ended, our guys fought right down to the last play of the game,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said.
For a crowd so diverse in its emotions and reactions down the stretch, one thing became unanimous; when the ball hit the ground, the hopeful, the sad, and the smitten made for the exits.

David La Vaque covers football and basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]