Chris Wormley had been in the situation before. He looked, then took a deep breath. And then he had one thought: Get off the field.
Iowa’s Keith Duncan had just kicked a game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired, and then came the Hawkeye fans streaming onto the field. Wormley knew he wouldn’t want to be caught up in that chaos.
And as he hurried off the field — his only prerogative to get to the locker room quickly — an Iowa fan accidentally collided with the 6-foot-6, 302-pound defensive lineman and flew backward to the turf.
“I was heading for the locker room after that loss, so I wasn’t thinking too much about who was in my way, who’s not in my way,” Wormley said Tuesday. “I hope he’s doing OK.”
It looked like a scary moment at first, but Wormley said he feels better about it now that he knows the fan is OK. The fifth-year senior even joked that he’d be willing to be the “poster child” for a brochure at every game called “Field Storming 101” that taught fans how to avoid injury.
The fact is, Wormley has been through plenty of moments like Saturday’s, though that was the first iteration in the past two years that induced a rush of fans from the seats. In that span, the Wolverines have played in four games decided on the final play, winning two (at Minnesota last Oct. 31 and at Indiana last Nov. 14) and losing two (versus Michigan State last Oct. 17 and at Iowa on Saturday).
“It wasn’t the greatest feeling I’ve ever had, I would say that,” said redshirt sophomore tight end Ian Bunting about Saturday. “I kind of just walked off the field quickly to avoid as many people as I could. It was just … it sucks to lose. It’s never good to lose. Especially when you’ve won all your games this season other than that one.”
The most famous crucial play of the four, of course, was last year’s muffed punt snap against Michigan State, which the Spartans returned for a touchdown and a 27-23 victory. That time, a full crowd of 111,740 watched in shock as the game changed and the visiting players piled on each other in the end zone with no time left.
Michigan followed that up with last-second escapes in two of the next three weeks. At Minnesota, the Wolverines trailed for most of the second half and lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock to an injury. But then-backup Wilton Speight stepped in and threw a go-ahead touchdown to Jehu Chesson with 4:57 left and added a two-point conversion that put his team up by three.
The Golden Gophers marched down the field on a 13-play, 74-yard drive and landed inside the 1-yard line. There, Michigan’s defense stuffed a quarterback sneak as time expired, a play that — like the others — many watched with bated breath.
“I guess just everything’s out of your control at that point,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. “… There’s nothing you can really do. You really (don’t) want to just have to have that feeling that you wish you could have done more. … That’d be terrible if you felt like you could have done a little bit more to change the outcome of the game.”
Yet the Wolverines found themselves in a similar position two weeks later at Indiana. Depleted on the defensive line and facing an up-tempo spread offense, they again trailed in the fourth quarter before forcing overtime on a touchdown pass from Rudock to Chesson with two seconds left. In the second overtime, safety Delano Hill broke up a fourth-down pass to preserve the victory and bring his teammates rushing onto the field to celebrate.
This year, a Michigan team that had coasted in seven of its first nine wins by at least 17 points, Saturday was the latest drama it had faced in a game all season. This time, the Wolverines ended up on the wrong end of it. They have seen both sides enough to know that it makes for a nerve-racking finish in either case.
“It depends on what side you end up on,” Bunting said with a wry smile. “If you end up on the side that we were on last week, it’s disappointing and it’s frustrating. But that’s football, and it’s gonna happen. That’s what we sign up for. We sign up for, when we come to Michigan, to play in games like that and to win games like that.”