From the archives: Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry called 1985 victory over Michigan 'my biggest win'

Des Moines Register

Editor's note: This story by Register sports writer Ron Maly originally ran on Oct. 20, 1985, the day after No. 1 Iowa knocked off No. 2 Michigan in what the Register rated as the greatest Hawkeye victory of all-time. The Hawkeyes finished the season at 10-2. Fry died at age 90 on Dec. 17, 2019.

IOWA CITY, IA. -- Rob Houghtlin kicked a dramatic 29-yard field goal as the final 2 seconds ticked off the clock Saturday, lifting No. 1-ranked Iowa to a 12-10 victory over No. 2 Michigan in one of the most suspenseful football games in Hawkeye history.

"I knew when I hit the ball it was good," said Houghtlin, who accounted for all of the Hawkeyes' points and tied a school record with his four field goals.

Houghtlin, a sophomore from Glenview, Illinois, who enrolled at Iowa without a football scholarship after feeling unwanted at Miami of Ohio, also booted field goals of 35, 27 and 36 yards.

"I had a feeling the outcome would come down to a field goal, but I also thought we might score a touchdown on the final drive," Houghtlin said.

Michigan hadn't allowed a point in the fourth quarter all season until Houghtlin kicked his field goals Saturday.

His four field goals matched the total by Dave Holsclaw against Minnesota in 1977.

Asked what he was thinking about during two timeouts before the final kick -- one called by Iowa, one by Michigan — Houghtlin said, "I wasn't thinking. I was praying, asking the Lord for strength — and direction."

The victory sent Iowa's season record soaring to 6-0 and its Big Ten mark to 3-0 before a record crowd of 66,350 at Kinnick Stadium.

Representatives of the Sugar, Orange, Cotton, Fiesta, Independence, Cherry and Florida Citrus bowls were among those who watched on a rainy, gray day.

Fans mob field

It was left to Houghtlin to insert a huge ray of sunshine into the happenings for Iowa fans when he booted his winning three-pointer.

Ecstatic Hawkeye followers stormed the field after officials signaled the kick good. The goalpost at the north end of the field tumbled in the celebration, but the other one survived.

In addition to keeping Iowa No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings, Houghtlin's kick enabled the Hawkeyes to take a sizable step toward the conference championship and a berth in the Rose Bowl.

"There's no doubt this was my biggest win at Iowa," said Fry. "I'm even going to vote us No. 1 in the UPI poll." There are still conference games remaining against Northwestern, Ohio State, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota, but winning this one was important for Coach Hayden Fry and his players.

Fry is on the UPI panel of coaches, and he hasn't voted the Hawkeyes No. 1 previously this season.

"We did what we had to do to win," said Fry. "All great teams do that."

Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said, "The reason Iowa won the game was its offense. With Chuck Long and Ronnie Harmon on the same team, it makes it extremely difficult to shut them down."

Hawks control ball

Long completed 26 of 39 passes for 297 yards, and Harmon ran 32 times for 120 yards, and caught six passes for 72.

Long probably enhanced his Heisman Trophy chances with his strong performance, but he said he was "very critical of myself."

"I thought I had an average game. I missed a few opportunities to score."

Iowa dominated the statistics, rolling up 422 yards to 182 for Michigan, which now stands 5-1 for the season and 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Another amazing set of figures found Iowa controlling the ball for 38 minutes and 5 seconds to Michigan's 21:55.

"I can't believe we had 84 plays to their 41," said Fry.

Yet, so outstanding was Michigan's defense that the Hawkeyes had to take a game televised to 80 percent of the nation down the very end before pulling it out.

Houghtlin had seen a streak of 10 straight field goal successes end when his 44-yard attempt was short and wide to the right with 7:38 to play.

But nothing negative was going through the soccer-style kicker's mind when he prepared for the winner.

"If you think about missing, you'll miss," he said. "I didn't think about the one I missed because I couldn't do anything about the past. All anyone can control is the present and the future."

Missed workouts

Because of a strained muscle in his kicking leg, Houghtlin hasn't been practicing in the last couple of weeks.

"The leg doesn't bother me on Saturdays," he said.

The game wasn't without some controversy. Iowa had an apparent 18-yard touchdown pass from Long to Scott Helverson nullified when officials ruled Helverson was out of the end zone.

But television replays showed he appeared to be inbounds, and Fry said three of his receivers told him Helverson's catch should have been worth six points.

"We used that call to motivate our players," Fry said. "We should have been ahead 10-7 at halftime instead of being behind, 7-6."

The Hawkeyes had to settle for Houghtlin's 35-yard yard field goal with 9:05 left in the first half after Helverson's catch was wiped out.

The fans and Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh were key participants in the game's only touchdown.

After Jamie Morris returned the kickoff 60 yards to the Iowa 31 after Houghtlin's first field goal, Michigan scored on an ab lib play after Harbaugh had retreated three times from the center snap because of crowd noise.

Fry disagreed.

"It was obvious Harbaugh could hear," said the Iowa coach. "He was standing there, reading our goal-line defense. He was audibilizing at the line.

Angry Bo

"There was nothing the referee could do because of the new rule the NCAA recently passed.

"The ref said he couldn't penalize Michigan. The new rule [concerning crowd noise] has taken away the officials' authority.

"Harbaugh took advantage of not having a penalty rule."

Asked if Harbaugh's actions were done deliberately to quiet the crowd, Schembechler said, "Of course not."

Once Michigan did snap the ball, Harbaugh flipped an impromptu shovel pass to fullback Gerald White, who stretched far enough to get into the end zone with 6:06 left in the half.

Mike Gillette was razor-sharp with the conversion, just as he was on his 40-yard field goal with 10:55 remaining in the game to give Michigan a temporary 10-9 lead.

Houghtlin's 27-yard field goal as time expired in the first half made the score 7-6. His 36-yarder with 14:29 remaining in the game pushed Iowa in front, 9-7.

But Michigan then stormed back, getting a 17-yard run from No. 2 fullback Bob Perryman and a 24-yarder from Morris before being bogged down.

On first down at the Iowa 17, Michigan was called for illegal procedure, then Nate Creer nailed Morris for a 5-yard loss. Gillette's 40-yard field goal followed.

Fry called Bill Brashier and Bill Snyder, his defensive and offensive coordinators, before newsmen after the game to help celebrate the victory.

"I told Schembechler before the game and repeated it after that it was too bad one team had to lose," said Fry. "Afterward, I told him he had a great team. He said, 'But you have the greatest.'

"That was quite a compliment coming from Bo. He even gave me a pack of chewing gum."

Fry said people overlooked the fact before the game that Iowa ranked No. 2 to Michigan's strong defense.

"And we had nine new starters this year," he explained. "I knew our defense was going to improve."

Schembechler called Long a "magnificent quarterback. We tried everything against him."

Iowa's next game is Saturday at Northwestern. Michigan plays Indiana in Ann Arbor.