IOWA CITY, Iowa — The ball was snapped, the holder plunked it to the turf, and the kicker’s foot came through with a thud. The ball sailed through the uprights, the crowd exploded and the biggest college football game of the season was decided with :00 showing on the clock.
It was an Iowa foot.
The Hawkeyes won.
And that was the proper ending to this showdown, as hard as it may be for Michigan fans to swallow. The Wolverines came in here ranked No. 2, the Hawkeyes No. 1. If there’s any justice in the rankings, that’s the way they’ll stay. Both teams deserve that for effort alone.
Man, what a game!
Was it close? As close as two halves of a peanut butter sandwich. If these teams were twins, they’d be Siamese. If they were of the opposite sexes, they’d be engaged by now.
The Wolverines lost, 12-10 — and lost seems like an overly harsh word for this game — simply because their offense sputtered when it most needed to fly, and their brilliant defense, which didn’t surrender a touchdown to the highest scoring team in the nation, couldn’t keep Iowa out of field goal range forever. A gem of a game
Part of me wants to leave this game alone. Don’t dissect it. Let it stand. Toss it in the kiln and bake it hard.
But for those who need analysis, OK. You want a “crucial” series of downs, it would have to be fourth quarter, Michigan takes over, 7:38 remaining, with a 10-9 lead. Here was the one slip on the ice that cost the Wolverines this game.
Michigan’s offense is also a defensive weapon. When it controls the ball, it keeps the opposing offense off the field. Lately it’s done that best with a healthy mix of passes and runs.
But on this particular series they reverted to a familiar “Run right! Run left! Run right!” approach. The last attempt was stopped for a two-yard loss, and the Wolverines had to punt away the ball that five minutes and 27 seconds later would go sailing through the uprights with the No. 1 ranking etched into its hide.
“We did a poor job on that series,” admitted Bo Schembechler. And that was all Iowa would need. Give the Hawkeyes credit. They came back like a page out of a football textbook. Chuck Long passes through defenses like a hot knife through butter, and running back Ronnie Harmon turns three-yard gains into 13 yards, five-yard gains into 20.
In their final drive — which must have had every human and half the cattle in this state holding their breath — the Hawkeyes converted no less than three essential third down plays, none shorter than five yards.
“The greatest thing I could do was grab Chuck by the shirt and tell him to do his thing,” said Iowa coach Hayden Fry, “That’s exactly what he did.”
And the foot of placekicker Rob Houghtlin — which scored all the Iowa points Saturday — did the rest. Iowa didn’t need non-touchdown
Depending on whom you ask, the score of this game was either 12-10 or 16-10. Those who say the latter will be dressed in gold and black, have a big
“I” on all their clothing, and know a lot about the corn crop. They are Iowans.
“We wuz robbed!” they’ll say. Well, actually, people from Brooklyn say that. Iowans probably use something less grimy, like, “Gee whiz, ref, no fair!”
But the point is the same. On a third-and-12 play in the second quarter, Long threw a seeing-eye pass to receiver Scott Helverson, who made a diving catch in the far lip of the end zone. The referee ruled he was out of bounds. The television replays seemed to indicate otherwise.
The Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal. Had they lost, you can bet that referee would have needed a police escort. Maybe for a week.
But they didn’t lose. Call it divine retribution. Iowa stays No. 1, remains undefeated, and gains the inside track to the Rose Bowl. Michigan can claim none of that. If there were such a thing as splitting a win 70-30, it might be a better alternative for the Wolverines.
Still, how can you complain about a game like this? How much closer can it get? No time left. One kick. Two points. How far apart is that? About the distance between No. 1 and No. 2, I suppose.
“I told coach Schembechler he had a great team,” said Fry, “and he said,
‘But you have the greatest.’ He even gave me a pack of chewing gum.”
Chew like a champion, coach. This week, anyhow, Iowa stands alone.