10 Years Later: Looking Back at Hawkeyes’ Improbable Win Against No. 3 PSU
IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s called Kinnick Magic. It occurs at night against Top 5 teams in Iowa’s historic stadium.
While the Hawkeyes have captured many memorable wins there throughout its 89 years of existence, heroics under the lights serve as a modern-day narrative inside the brick walls. Visitors beware.
It started a decade ago on Nov. 8, 2008. It was cold, real cold. Penn State arrived unbeaten and No. 3 in the nation with national title hopes. The Hawkeyes limped into the contest at 2-3 in Big Ten play, fresh off a crushing loss at Illinois.
At that point, they hadn’t beaten a Top 5 opponent since ’90. The Nittany Lions were favored by 7.5 points.
Then, it happened. Iowa ground out an improbably 24-23 triumph, the difference a Daniel Murray 31-yard field goal with one second on the clock. After it ticked away, the fans stormed the field.
The scene has been replayed more recently against No. 3 Michigan in ’16 and No. 3 Ohio State last fall. Quarterback C.J. Beathard lost his helmet in the melee that ensued after Keith Duncan’s last-second field goal sunk the Wolverines.
We tend to best remember what happens most recently. With Iowa traveling to Penn State this week, however, it’s a good time to look back at a very significant contest in Hawkeye lore.
The Illinois loss a week earlier left a sour taste in the mouths of these Hawkeyes. They showed anger during postgame interviews in Champaign. Maybe we should have guessed it would fuel them.
“There are a lot of games in my career I wish I could take back and that game is up there. You don’t ever want to lose, especially to Illinois. That bus ride home was terrible,” linebacker Pat Angerer said.
They were frustrated. They lived through a quarterback controversy early in the season. They lost consecutive games to Pittsburgh, Northwestern and Michigan State by a total of eight points.
They settled on Ricky Stanzi over incumbent starter Jake Christensen. He led them to blowout wins against Indiana and Wisconsin heading into the game at Illinois. The inconsistency maddened the players, who felt they were better than their 4-4 record would indicate.
“We had a good group of guys. We had guys that were going to fight. We knew that if we just kept swinging that eventually it was going to work out in our favor,” Angerer said.
Meanwhile, Penn State rolled into town off of a 13-6 victory at No. 10 Ohio State. It had obliterated Michigan and Wisconsin the two games prior to that by a combined score of 94-24. Not many people gave the Hawkeyes a chance in this one.
The Lions’ offense was humming through the first nine games. It had posted at least 38 points in seven of those contests. Iowa’s defense had yielded less than 20 points in six games and no more than 27 in any matchup.
The Hawkeyes won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. Quarterback Daryll Clark and the PSU offense trotted onto the field. It found out quickly that Iowa came to play.
Christian Ballard and Matt Kroul were credited with quarterback hurries on the first two downs. Adrian Clayborn sacked Clark for a 19-yard loss on third down, pushing PSU back to its own one. The Hawkeyes felt it should have been a safety.
“Right away, we started out pretty good. Clayborn had the big play and the ball ended up in the end zone. For some reason, they didn’t give it to us. Who knows,” Angerer said.
After a short punt and 10-yard return by Andy Brodell, the Hawkeyes took over at the Lion 25. It turned out to be a big play and not an easy one with the wind swirling.
“I just remember thinking, I had to catch the ball. The lights were shining bright at that point and it was a big deal. I just didn’t want to screw it up,” Brodell said.
From there, they road their workhouse running back Shonn Greene. He chewed up the 25 yards in two carries and the home team led 7-0. It was the last time Iowa would see the ball for a while.
PSU answered with a 17-play drive that consumed 9:43 of the clock. It settled for a Kevin Kelly 24-yard field goal and still trailed 7-3.
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The Hawkeyes followed with a three-and-out. The visitors then put together an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown march that took another 5:02 off the clock. They led 10-7.
The next Iowa possession stalled out after five plays. The Lions followed with a 16-play, 78-yard drive that lasted 8:18 seconds. Once again, though, they settled for a Kelly field goal and took a 13-7 lead into halftime.
Penn State owned an impressive 23:34-6:24 time-of-possession advantage and out-gained Iowa 203-70 during the first half. Still, the Hawkeye defense bent but didn’t break, forcing PSU into two field goals after it reached the red zone.
“They kind of had their way with us. They drove the field on us. They were tough. Their line was tough. I probably have never gotten my butt kicked liked that. That game was very humbling,” Angerer said. “But we knew we had some fighters. We knew if we could just stay in the game, that our offense was going to get moving.”
The Hawkeyes received the second half’s opening kickoff, taking over at their own 18. Four plays later, Tyrell Sales picked off Stanzi and PSU took over at the Iowa 29. The defense bowed up again, holding the Lions to a field goal and a 16-7 lead.
The Iowa offense responded on its next possession, driving 73 yards in 10 plays. The march was capped with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Stanzi to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on a third and 13. PSU’s lead was cut to 16-14 with 4:43 remaining in the third quarter.
“He scored on a double move and I remember we put that in that week. It was a 10-yard in and up type of route. It totally worked,” said Brodell, who played receiver. “I remember when coach (Ken) O’Keefe called it I thought it was for sure a touchdown. That was a huge play in the game because it got us back into it.”
The Lions then went three and out and the home team regained possession at its own 16. Three plays later, Stanzi fumbled on a first and 10 and PSU took over at the Iowa 28. It converted the turnover into a touchdown and a 23-14 lead with :29 left in the third.
The teams traded punts before the Hawkeyes set up at the Lion 44 with 12:20 left in regulation. They drove for the touchdown, Greene capping it with a 6-yard run. He rushed for 20 yards on the drive. Stanzi hit tight end Brandon Myers on a pair of pass plays that accounted for the other 24.
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Iowa trailed 23-21 with 9:20 remaining in the fourth. PSU took over the ball and was forced to punt after three plays. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it was called for roughing the punter, keeping the Lion drive alive.
The visitors drove down to the Iowa 23. Again, the defense rose up. Two running plays resulted in four lost yards and then PSU was called for holding, setting up a third and 24 at the Hawkeye 37.
As he did so often in his career, safety Tyler Sash, who passed away in ’15, stepped in front of the Clark pass and returned the interception to the home 29. The clock showed 3:46.
“I remember that play because they were driving on us and we were all just talking about getting off the field. I think on that play me and Jeremiha Hunter both guarded the wrong guy in some weird coverage. My guy was probably running wide open down the middle of the field. They threw a ball out there and Sash made a play like he always did. That was huge,” Angerer said.
The possession started with Stanzi being sacked by Jared Odrick for a five-yard loss. An incomplete pass to Greene set up a third and 15. On the next play, Penn State was flagged for pass interference against Trey Stross, keeping the Iowa drive alive.
“It was a blatant pass interference. It was a huge play. I remember thinking it was a dumb play by the defender because I think he had position and I don’t think Trey was positioned to catch the ball. At that point, I was thinking we had this thing,” Brodell said.
Stanzi found Myers on a pair of passes that totaled 17 yards and connected with Johnson-Koulianos for 10 more. The Hawkeyes called timeout at the PSU 14 with :06 left. The Lions then called timeout to ice the kicker.
That Murray came out for the kick was surprising. He’d lost the starting kicking job to Trent Mossbrucker earlier in the season and just was handling kickoffs.
Before this game, it had been decided that Mossbrucker would take the shorter field goals (41 yards and in) and Murray would be responsible for the longer ones. That strategy went out the window when the coaches chose the experience of Murray in the pressure-packed situation.
“I was warming up and we got inside the 25 and I just stopped figuring we were in Trent’s area,” Murray recalled. “It was probably 20 seconds later when (special teams) coach (Lester) Erb radioed down from the press box that I’d be kicking it no matter where it’s at.
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“I don’t know exactly what went through the conversations with the coaches, but I’ll take it.”
Murray was at his calmest once he trotted out on the field. He just lived the moment even when Penn State called its timeout.
“I still say to this day if they didn’t called the timeout I would have been more shocked and who knows what would have happened,” he said.
His teammates and coaches chose to leave him alone during the breaks.
“I kind of went and did my own thing. I didn’t need anyone giving me a pep talk. Nothing you can really say or do to influence you at that point,” he said.
Said Angerer: “We knew Daniel was going to make that kick. He’s as mentally tough and solid as they come.”
Murray felt the 31-yarder was good as soon as his foot met the ball. He ran wildly to the other end of the field with his teammates in pursuit, not feeling the wind chills in the 20s. He honored his high school soccer days at Iowa City Regina with a post-goal slide on the turf.
“I think I glanced up for a split second. I never actually watched it go through the uprights because when you hit it right you know exactly where it’s going. The only reason I did the slide was that I knew I had to stop running at some point,” he said.
After Iowa took a celebration penalty, Murray kicked off for the last play of the game. The clock hit zeros and the crowd spilled onto the field. Angerer was prepared.
“I knew I had to get the heck off the field before I got mobbed. Our fans like to have a good time. Looking back on it, I kind of wish I stayed out on the field and enjoyed it but we had fun in the locker room,” he said.
Brodell got caught up in the celebration with drunk people breathing on him and slapping him in the helmet. He was one of the last players to leave the field, which allowed him to watch Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and Penn State counterpart Joe Paterno greet each other outside the Hawkeye locker room.
“That was their post-game handshake. I remember them embracing and it was cool to see that. I grew up a fan of college football and I was pretty much the only one to witness it with everyone else in the locker room. Everything that happened with Penn State afterwards is what it is, but that was a pretty cool moment at the time,” Brodell said.
Fans still ask Murray to tell the story of his famous kick that ranks up there with big ones from Rob Houghtlin, Marshall Koehn, Keith Duncan and others. He’s proud to recall it for them.
“It’s still really cool to this day. I don’t talk about it at work, but if people figure it out, it’s still fun to talk about,” he said.
Not only did that victory serve as a catalyst for Kinnick Magic, it propelled the Hawkeyes into a special run. They won their three games that season after PSU, including a 31-10 drubbing of coach Steve Spurrier and South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
They would come back in ’09 with many of the same faces that turned things around the previous year and win their first nine games. An injury to Stanzi cost them a possible perfect season, but they reached the Orange Bowl and soundly defeated Georgia Tech in it.
“It was a special game (Penn State) and it was huge for us,” Angerer said. “We knew we had a good team with good guys, but we hadn’t had that signature win that we needed. Once we got over that hump, we kind of felt like we were unstoppable.”
The turnaround followed a couple of uninspiring seasons. The Hawkeyes had missed a bowl game in ’07, one of only two times that’s happened in the last 18 years.
“I do look back at that ’08 group and the seniors and where we were in ’06 and ’07 and thought we got the thing turned around again and headed in the right direction. I felt good about where we left things,” Brodell said.