AMES, Iowa – Jack Trice Stadium emptied fast Saturday afternoon after Iowa’s 44-41 overtime win against Iowa State.
Hawkeye quarterback Nate Stanley found Ihmir Smith-Marsette for the winning score. Cyclone fans, preconditioned by decades of losing and desperate for any sign of a turnaround, got up and left. It was eerie, efficient, and telling how quickly Jack Trice transformed from deafeningly loud into a library.
What the Hawkeyes did to the Cyclones on Saturday – rather, what the Hawkeyes did to all of Cyclone Nation – will be remembered for generations. No, it’s not a National Championship. Yes, it’s just one game. It was the type of game, however, that parents with young kids today will revisit years from now, long after those kids have themselves become parents.
“Remember Akrum Wadley’s touchdown?”
“Remember Parker Hesse’s interception?
Iowa has beaten Iowa State a lot since the schools renewed their rivalry in the 1970s. Over the last 20 years, the Cyclones have more than held their own.
What happened Saturday was different. For the Hawkeyes and their fans, the win had to be the most satisfying in the history of the rivalry.
Usually, Iowa vs. Iowa State is low stakes. It’s a non-conference game played during the second week of the season, as consequential to college football’s bigger overall picture as Indiana-Virginia or Northwestern-Duke. Maybe its result holds sway over where some four-star stud lineman from Ankeny will attend college – Iowa City or Ames – but even then, probably not.
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Yet Saturday’s win delivered a sense of satisfaction seldom felt on Iowa’s end of the intrastate rivalry. Usually among Iowa fans, a loss to the Cyclones fills us with a sense of dread, because A) we’re going to have to hear about it for a year, and B) more often than not, come bowl-selection season ESPN and BTN will put graphics below Iowa’s name titled, “Bad Losses,” and in that graphic will be two words: Iowa State.
A win usually doesn’t feel much better. It comes with more relief than pleasure. Thank goodness we didn’t lose to those guys again.
But not this year. This year felt amazing.
What was different? Four things.
First, Iowa State brought it. The Cyclones have a good team. Sure, their defense needs work, but that offense – good grief. It’s legit. Plus, even the defense had its big moment, holding Iowa to a field goal after Hesse returned his late interception to ISU’s 5-yard line.
Second, Iowa had to dig itself out of holes. The Hawkeyes trailed in the game five times, including by two scores with about six-and-a-half minutes to play. Some years, Iowa shows the ability to rally from behind. Others, they don’t. On Saturday, the Cyclones demanded that the Hawkeyes reveal who they might be, and Iowa responded by repeatedly getting up and punching back until, finally, the Hawkeyes were the only team left standing.
Third, so much about this year’s Hawkeyes are a mystery. We didn’t know much about quarterback Nate Stanley. He kept cool under pressure and delivered one of the best single-game performances in school history. We didn’t know much about Brian Ferentz as an offensive coordinator. He called a smart game that took advantage of a staggering ISU defense. We didn’t know much about Iowa’s revamped secondary. It showed itself to have all the holes that we feared during the preseason, but at least now we know how opposing offenses will plan to attack the Hawkeyes the rest of the season.
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Fourth, the win included memorable moments and performances, none more so than Wadley’s 46-yard touchdown reception from Stanley that tied the game at 38 with 1:09 to play.
Like Chuck Long’s naked bootleg and Tyler Sash’s interception and lateral to Micah Hyde, Wadley’s run after the catch will become an immortalized Iowa highlight.
Iowa’s victory Saturday actually meant something – it meant a lot of things. That’s why it will be remembered while most of the others are not. It wasn’t just a win, it was a reckoning. It was the Iowa Hawkeyes beginning to figure out who they are and who they will become.
* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.