IOWA CITY — Inside the Iowa student section, at the end of a night both sides will remember for a long time, Liam Crawford had one thought. And of course everyone else had the same one.
At 5-4, the Hawkeyes had trudged through a forgettable season. They lost to North Dakota State and Northwestern earlier this season, and few gave them much of a chance against the No. 3 Michigan football team. It did not seem to matter. At the end of a long Saturday night, with three seconds left and the Wolverines ahead 13-11, Iowa kicker Keith Duncan jogged onto the field for a 33-yard field-goal attempt to win the game.
Behind the end zone into which Duncan would try that kick, the Iowa students inched forward in the bleachers. “Rush the field!” Crawford thought, and the stadium went silent.
“Please, please, please!” one fan shouted into the night. Tyler Kluver delivered the snap. Ron Coluzzi placed down the hold. Duncan knocked the kick through the uprights.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said 27-year-old Corbett Ball, who was seated near the 50-yard line. “We were on the field immediately.”
The students crammed into the last few rows before storming onto the turf, and everything else was pandemonium. Tyler Brenneman, another student, called it the “best day ever.” A few fans took pictures while sprawled out in the end zone. Others just ran around in awe. “Oh my God, we pulled it off!” one yelled, adding an expletive.
They engulfed the players in a mass of bodies on the field. They stood on top of each other’s shoulders and took videos. They left the goalpost lopsided where Duncan had kicked it.
Through the chaos, the Wolverines shuffled off the field, their dreams of a perfect season spoiled. November features a handful of similar finishes every year, with shocking upsets sparking field rushes and knocking off top teams. Michigan rose to No. 3 in the polls this season for the first time since 2006. Once again, the Wolverines were susceptible to such heartbreak, and with that came euphoria on the other end.
“We couldn’t believe what was happening and what was unfolding,” Ball said. “We felt, for the first time this season, it made our season.”
With 114 seconds left in such a momentous game, the biggest possible victory seemed implausible. Hawkeyes quarterback C.J. Beathard had just missed an open Jerminic Smith on a pass downfield, instead throwing an interception to Michigan cornerback Channing Stribling. The Wolverines needed only one first down to ice the victory and escape with a win.
An announced sellout crowd of 70,585, all standing, groaned with disappointment. About 1,000 of them left the stadium. “Go home,” one said as he walked out. “It’s over.”
Inside the student section, though, the fans knew better. Kyle Ford, Cameron Clause and Michael Taloumis saw the 1:14 on the clock and thought if Iowa could force a three-and-out on Michigan’s next series, perhaps there could be just a bit more magic left in Kinnick Stadium.
From the moment the handfuls of fans left the stadium, everything went Iowa’s way, and nobody left again for a long time. The students clung to the last shreds of hope for an upset. Other fans watched on the TVs in the concourse, afraid to miss the finish if they journeyed back to their seats.
Each play, the fans raised the intensity back up as fortunes shifted back in their favor. Iowa stuffed two consecutive Michigan run plays. On third down, Hawkeyes cornerback Manny Rugamba broke up a pass to force a punt. On that punt, a Michigan face-mask penalty gave Iowa 15 more yards. Dave Zarzynski, 27, who was sitting with Ball, knew then that the Hawkeyes would pull it off.
They inched into field-goal range until they stopped and called a timeout at Michigan’s 15-yard line. The masses of fans left in the stadium awaited the kick.
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to do this again,’ ” said Crawford, who was also in attendance when Iowa upset then-No. 3 Penn State on a similar game-winning field goal in 2008. “History is repeating itself.”
Sure enough, it did, and it will again. Each time will bring something different, a unique heartbreak for the favored team and a unique joy for the giant killer. Saturday in Iowa City added another chapter to a memorable history of November finishes.
“We don’t get this opportunity very often at Kinnick Stadium,” Ball said. “It was unbelievable.”