Leistikow: The top 10 'OMG' Hawkeye plays of the Fry/Ferentz era

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

A visit the other day with Tim Dwight, whose accomplished Iowa football career ended in 1997, sparked a few threads of conversation.

His return-game heroics against the likes of Penn State (1996), Ohio State (1996) and Michigan (1997) generated some of the most “wow” moments in the last four decades of Hawkeye football.

That got me thinking: Which single plays have caused the most amazement in your Iowa-football-following life?

On Twitter, I called them the most “OMG” — Oh My (Goodness) — plays in Hawkeye history.

Is there any doubt what the No. 1 "OMG" play of the Fry/Ferentz era should be? Warren Holloway is carried by his teammates after catching the game-winning 56-yard touchdown pass from Drew Tate in the 2005 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

For personal simplicity, I kept the list to the Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz era (since 1979), because I’m not old enough to have experienced anything before that.

And there’s probably some recency bias in here, largely because television has crystallized so many of these moments so well. The last time any Hawkeye game wasn’t televised was 2001. (Before that, it was only in 1994 that Iowa games only aired three times on television.)

Everyone’s top 10 would be different — and again, I’m going for the shock and elation of the moment here. The kind of moment where you’re uncontrollably jumping around and hugging everyone in your jubilant path.

So, here’s what I came up with. You can probably guess No. 1, but we’ll count ‘em down from No. 10.

#10: Banks-to-Clark beats Purdue, 2002

The play: Fourth and goal, down four, do-or-die, from the Purdue 7 with just over a minute left. Quarterback Brad Banks takes the snap from under center, rolls left, pivots and throws a lob just to the right corner of the end zone — where Dallas Clark has broken free. Clark not only catches the pass, he gives the unforgettable image of the touchdown call with his arms shooting straight into the air. Iowa wins, 31-28.

In context: The Hawkeyes a week earlier had gone into Happy Valley to slay No. 12 Penn State in overtime, giving this game some extra juice. Without this play, the undefeated Big Ten Conference run of 2002 doesn’t happen.

#9: “Micah Hyyyyyyde.” Insight Bowl, 2010

The play: The 2010 Insight Bowl seemed to be a lost cause, with Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert slinging the ball all over the place (to the tune of 434 yards). The Hawkeyes down four with just over 5½ minutes left until safety Micah Hyde jumped in front of a rare Gabbert mistake. After the interception near the right boundary, he darted across the middle of the field, around Missouri defenders and up the left sideline — where jubilant Hawkeyes were going wild as the path in front of him opened up. Sean McDonough’s exasperation on the ESPN call was only matched by Hawkeye fans catching their breath: “Micah Hyyyyyyde! All the way! Touchdown, Iowa!” Iowa beat the 12th-ranked Tigers, 27-24.

In context: The 2010 season needed a lifeline after some mid-season disappointment (summed up by three words: Wisconsin. Fake. Punt.), and Hyde’s stunning play was one of the most improbable in-game reversals of momentum in the Ferentz era.

#8: C.J. Jones to the house, 2003

The play: Opening kickoff of the Orange Bowl after Iowa’s 11-1 season. The estimated 47,000 Iowa fans in attendance in Miami Gardens, Fla., didn’t have to wait any longer to go berserk. C.J. Jones accepted the USC kick at his own goal line, saw an opening to his left, directed running back Jeremelle Lewis to lead his path, and he was off to the races. Tim Brant’s ABC call of the game is well-remembered: “C.J. Jones! See you later! 100 yards!” The Orange Bowl was rockin’, although USC and Carson Palmer would come knockin’ right back in a 38-17 win over Iowa.

In context: The buildup to this game was incredible — Iowa hadn’t played for 49 days after finishing up an 8-0 Big Ten campaign Nov. 16 at Minnesota. The program had returned to the national stage, and Jones’ 100-yard dash was quite the opening statement.

#7: Gus Johnson’s freakout, Beathard to Smith, 2015

The play: Its offense sputtering against a salty Michgian State defense in the 2015 Big Ten Championship, Iowa opened the fourth quarter with an 85-yard bang. Down 9-6, quarterback C.J. Beathard dropped back on second-and-20 from his own 15, and uncorked a deep ball with everything he had toward Tevaun Smith. Fox’s Gus Johnson immortalized the rest: “Goes down the field for Smith. Ooooohhhhhhh! He caught it! Smith! Touchdown, 85 yards ... Iowa!” The stunning, lead-taking play had black-and-gold striped Lucas Oil Stadium going wild. Unfortunately for Iowa, the fourth quarter ended with the opposite emotion: A gut-punch, 16-13 loss on L.J. Scott’s 1-yard run with 27 seconds left.

In context: Everything was at stake. A win, and Iowa would have undoubtedly been into the four-team College Football Playoff. This was probably the single-biggest game of the Ferentz era. The Beathard-to-Smith TD pass, despite the loss, still brings goose bumps today.

#6: Tyler Sash’s pinball INT and runback, 2009

The play: Trailing, 21-7, midway through the third quarter against Indiana, Iowa needed a miracle. And basically got one that could never be repeated. On third-and-goal from the Iowa 2, Hoosiers quarterback Ben Chappell was hit from behind by A.J. Edds as he threw. The ball ricocheted off three players like a pinball — two Hoosiers and Iowa’s Christian Ballard — and directly into the arms of blitzing safety Tyler Sash, who showed off his speed with an 86-yard, untouched sprint to the house. Iowa would rally to win, 42-24, to improve to 9-0.

In context: Perhaps the most freakish play on the list, Iowa fans were beginning to panic. A week after a walk-off win at Michigan State (more on that soon), the 2009 pursuit of perfection was looking perilous. Sash’s dash kept No. 4 Iowa’s national-title dream alive.

#5: THUD. Clayborn’s block-and-run, 2009

The play: Down 10-5 (yes, there always seem to be safeties when Iowa plays Penn State) in the fourth quarter, defensive end Adrian Clayborn took matters into his own hands with a “thud” that could be heard on the national ABC broadcast. Commentator Brent Musburger was as surprised as every Hawkeye fan, as Penn State punter Jeremy Boone had his kick blocked by Clayborn's mid-section. “Blocked! Scooped up! This is going to be a Hawkeye touchdown!” Clayborn’s 53-yard score put Iowa ahead, 11-10, and led to an eventual 21-10 final.

In context: Penn State was ranked No. 4 in the country, and this was supposed to be a revenge game for the Nittany Lions — a year after Iowa stopped their unbeaten run on Daniel Murray’s late field goal in Iowa City. Instead, it was Iowa that was off to a 4-0 start — ironically with blocked kicks leading the way to two wins. In the opener, Iowa blocked two straight field-goal attempts with no time left to beat Northern Iowa, 17-16.

#4: Stanzi-to-McNutt beats Sparty, 2009

The play: With 2 seconds left, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi went under center from Michigan State’s 7-yard line and the Hawkeyes trailing, 13-9. Stanzi dropped back and quickly fired a slant over the middle to Marvin McNutt, who made the grab and held on for dear life as he was taken to the ground — in the end zone. It was clutch execution, and gave the Hawkeyes their 12th straight win, 15-13.

In context: “7 got 6,” with No. 7 McNutt raking in the win, is remembered as perhaps the greatest moment of many of the Hawkeyes’ 2009 dream run. The win propelled the Hawkeyes to an 8-0 record and left Spartan Stadium in stunned silence — except for every Hawkeye player yelling and streaming onto the field.

#3: T.D. to the house in the Big House, 1997

The play: As far as shock value goes, this was about as improbable as it gets. With mighty Michigan punting just before halftime, Tim Dwight fielded the ball at his own 39. He sprinted to his right, attracting four Michigan defenders, then stopped and reversed field. He picked up a few nice blocks, weaved through Michigan defenders and raced into the end zone for a 61-yard score and a 21-7 Iowa lead in Ann Arbor as the first half expired. The Hawkeyes would lose the game, 28-24. 

In context: The 1997 Hawkeyes were considered national contenders. A week after losing at Ohio State, they were trying to get back into the top 10 and had just taken a two-touchdown halftime lead despite having just one snap inside Michigan’s 50-yard line. This Michigan team was a juggernaut — it would eventually share the national championship and have Charles Woodson crowned as the Heisman Trophy winner. Much like some previous “OMG” moments, this game ended in despair, with Sam Sword’s interception of Matt Sherman with Iowa driving in the final minute.

#2: “It’s an Iowa touchdown!” Hartlieb-to-Cook, 1987

The play: Officially, it was fourth-and-23 from Ohio State’s 28-yard line with 16 seconds left, though the snap came from the 29 just to make it that much more improbable. Down 27-22, quarterback Chuck Hartlieb took the snap from under center and floated a pass up the right sideline. Junior tight end Marv Cook snagged the ball at the 9-yard line, turned up field and crashed through two Buckeye defenders to barely cross the goal line. The Horseshoe was silent, but Iowa broadcaster Jim Zabel wasn’t in perhaps his most famous radio call: “Here’s Hartlieb going out. He looks, he throws, it iiiiiiiiiiiis ... COMPLETE! And it’s an … Iowa … touchdown! It’s an Iowa touchdown! It’s an Iowa touchdown!” The Hawkeyes had won, 29-27.

In context: Iowa was out of timeouts and hadn’t won in Columbus since 1959. This was the equivalent of a Hail Mary, yet it looked like an ordinary play executed to perfection at just the right time. The loss was the final straw for Ohio State, which would fire Earle Bruce two days later. The Hawkeyes won the final six games of their 1987 season to finish 10-3.

#1: Tate-to-Holloway (of course), 2005

The play: “Nine seconds to play, and Drew Tate doesn’t know that!” The call of broadcaster Gary Dolphin underscored how frenetic this final play of the 2005 Capital One Bowl had become. Iowa inexplicably let the clock run, despite having timeouts to burn, and suddenly from its own 44 had one final shot to beat LSU. Down 25-24, quarterback Drew Tate took a shotgun snap and calmly surveyed the field from his own 36. He planted and launched the ball up the seam to his right, where seldom-used senior Warren Holloway had broken free. The ball perfectly hit Holloway in stride at the LSU 15, and he motored into the end zone for his first (and only) career touchdown and a 30-25 bowl-game win.

In context: Iowa’s 2004 season was as magical as could be, especially after it got pummeled in the desert by Arizona State, 44-7, and lost the Big Ten opener a week later at Michigan. But the Hawkeyes — down to their fifth-string running back, Sam Brownlee — wouldn’t lose again behind a sophomore gunslinger at quarterback. Along the way, Iowa blasted Ohio State, 33-7; edged Penn State, 6-4, on the week of Ferentz’s father’s death; and then stomped No. 9 Wisconsin, 30-7, to tie for a Big Ten championship. The Capital One Bowl would be Nick Saban’s last as LSU coach, and Iowa would finish No. 8 in the national rankings for the third straight year.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

Also considered for the top 10

1985: Rob Houghtlin's 29-yard field goal beats Michigan in No. 1 vs. No. 2.

2003: Nathan Chandler's TD pass to Ramon Ochoa beats Michigan.

2009: Two blocked field goals in a row hold off Northern Iowa.

2010: Tyler Sash's lateral to Micah Hyde for an interception-return TD vs. Michigan State.

2015: Marshall Koehn's 57-yard field goal beats Pittsburgh.