Was Pitt Comeback an All Timer?

September 17, 2011

Written by Jon Miller

Hawkeye Nation

The Iowa Hawkeyes found themselves down 24-3 with 3:11 to go in the third quarter, having done very little offensively on the day save for shooting themselves in the foot.

What happened after that was simply historic; it was the biggest comeback in Iowa football history according to Iowa’s Sports Information Department.  Iowa scored four touchdowns in a span of 16 minutes and 16 seconds to complete the incomparable comeback.

I have watched that final 16:16 again and am still amazed, still having a tough time to find the right words to describe it.

The Hawkeyes scored a touchdown on that late third quarter drive, but Pitt came back and added a field goal on their next possession, making it a 27-10 game…that meant Iowa had to score three times in the final 12:09 to either tie it or win it, and the defense also had to pitch a shutout the rest of the way.

Not just that, but that series where Pitt got the field goal, the Panthers had a first and goal to go at the Iowa two yard line…James Morris made an amazing open field stop, and Pitt had a bad snap on third down that forced the field goal.

All of those things happened, and both of them were unlikely given not only the circumstances of the day (lack of offensive consistency) and season to date (a defense that was having problems getting off the field).

So where does this comeback rank on the ‘I can’t believe what I just saw’ meter?  Or to use today’s twitter and text lexicon, an ‘OMG’ meter…

This sort of thing is difficult to quantify, because there are so many factors you can throw into the mix…the gravity of a situation is tough to ignore, which can bring last second field goal or last second scoring plays into the equation.

I tossed this question out on twitter and received several replies.  Let’s share some of them here for the sake of discussion and debate and see where that leads us…

Rob Houghtlin’s Field Goal to beat Michigan in 1985:  Iowa was #1 in the nation, Michigan was #2.  Rob Houghtlin kicked a 29-yard field goal to win it as time expired.  It was a huge, huge win for the program, and the gravity of the situation added to the dramatics.  That being said, is making a 29-yard field goal an ‘OMG’ moment in and of itself?  No.  But given what was on the line, it’s real tough to separate the gravity from the relative short distance and the fact Houghtlin was kicking off the elevated ‘tee’ the used back in those days.

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Iowa over Purdue in 2002: The #24 Hawks were not sharp on that day…they needed a fourth quarter comeback of their own to win that game, as they were down 10 to the unranked Boilermakers. Iowa needed a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown that day, a 95-yard pass play to Dallas Clark and one of the most memorable drives in school history to take the lead, and even then Purdue drove the length of the field and the Hawk needed a late INT to preserve the win. The game winning drive was an 87-yarder that spanned 2:12 and Iowa didn’t have any timeouts. It ended with an amazing play, but the final drive was an OMG reel.

Indiana at Iowa 2009: Indiana was up 14 points midway through the third quarter and just two yards away from a touchdown. That’s when the football played pinball and wound up in the hands of Tyler Sash for one of the more improbably returns for a score in Kinnick history, an 86 yard scamper. Indiana came back and scored a field goal, leading by 10 into the fourth quarter. That’s when more lightning struck at Kinnick Stadium; Iowa scored on one play drives in subsequent possessions from 92 and 66 yards to take the lead, then buried the Hoosiers. It was crazy, it was fluky, but still up there on the OMG meter.

Tate to Holloway: “Nine seconds to play and Drew Tate doesn’t know that! The game is going to end on this play. He fires downfield. CAUGHT AND INTO THE ENDZONE! TOUCHDOWN IOWA! TOUCHDOWN IOWA! OH MY GOD I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW!” This one is tough to unseat…given it was a bowl game between two highly ranked teams and how improbable it was for that 2004 Iowa team to be in that position to begin with..a walk off 56-yard touchdown pass in a bowl game?

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Iowa at Michigan State, 2009: Iowa had to take the ball 71 yards in 1:37 to win. They had to score a touchdown. They had done next to nothing with the ball all day, just 205 yards of total offense and four third down conversions to that point. Of course, that’s right where the 2009 Hawks wanted it…and on fourth down and goal from the MSU seven-yard line with two seconds, they win it. Iowa was #7 in the BCS at that point and it helped them get to 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Stand, 2006: Iowa kept Syracuse out of the endzone on seven consecutive plays from the two-yard line to win in overtime. Sure, the 2006 season won’t live on in the annals of Iowa history…but this goal line stand will stand the test of time.

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BLOCKED AGAIN; Iowa vs UNI 2009: Yes, it was a win against UNI at home by one point. However, you may never see something like that to end a game ever again as long as you live..any team, anywhere. I remember doing ‘Soundoff’ after that game and Jim Zabel said that sometimes when things like that happen, it can be the mark of a great season. I didn’t feel that way at the time…but it proved to be prophetic, as Iowa never could have gotten to 9-0 as they did that year without win number one. As far as being on the OMG meter, this one is on the list.

Hartlieb to Cook, 1987 at The Shoe: Iowa hadn’t won at Ohio State in a LOOOONG time…and it was 4th and forever, at the OSU 29. Chuck Hartlieb found Marv Cook and Marv carried Bo Pelini into the endzone for a touchdown. It was a huge OMG moment for the program, a historic win for Iowa and tougher to convert than a 29-yard field goal.

There are more moments, but these are a few to chew on…Saturday’s comeback may not have that singular, signature play but the circumstances and how both sides of the ball had to be perfect (needed to score every time, and needed to keep Pitt off the scoreboard every time) will make it a very, very special memory for Hawkeye fans.

I was all set to vault Saturday’s win to the top of the OMG chart…but after writing this and seeking out these games, re-reading the accounts and watching the videos I have linked, I can’t put it at the top..and maybe not in the top three as I had originally thought.

There’s no way to take out the gravity and circumstances of the games…if Iowa wins the rest of their games and plays in the Rose Bowl this year, this one will shoot near the top of the charts.

No matter where you slot it, it was an amazing spectacle to witness…and this exercise reminds me how fortunate Iowa fans have been through the years, as there is seemingly an amazing, or OMG moment each and every year for the Iowa football program.

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