5 signature moments in Hawkeyes' 12-0 season

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Boiling down an undefeated regular season into five signature moments was no easy task. Good stories have been overflowing during the Iowa football team’s historic march to Saturday’s Big Ten Conference Championship Game.

But it’s fitting that when the list got whittled to five, it included at least one on offense, defense and special teams. If the Hawkeyes (12-0) are to beat Michigan State (11-1) at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, it’ll likely take success in all three of those phases — a point of renewed emphasis since January from 17th-year head coach Kirk “The Maverick” Ferentz.

Members of the Iowa Hawkeye football team celebrate with the Heroes Trophy after beating Nebraska to finish the season at 12-0.

It was also important in picking five to capture the essence of togetherness and change that has been fostered since the famous Jan. 8 depth chart.

So, here they are (in chronological order):

The ‘pants-down’ pass

Iowa’s Matt VandeBerg makes a 48-yard catch behind Iowa State’s Darian Cotton to convert a third-and-21 in the fourth quarter of the Hawkeyes' 31-17 win.

The situation: In a 17-17 game at Iowa State early in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes were in trouble – already having lost their best defensive player (Drew Ott) and No. 1 running back (LeShun Daniels Jr.) to injury in a hostile road environment. Iowa faced third-and-21 from its own 6-yard line.

The play: Rather than try to pick up breathing room for a punt, the Hawkeyes went for the home run. Quarterback C.J. Beathard dropped back into his end zone and winged a deep throw to Matt VandeBerg – on the money for a 48-yard gain. First down.

The importance: Though this drive finished with a red-zone fumble, it flipped field position in a critical game to the Hawkeyes' perception. A 2-0 start was seen as essential to regain program momentum. After a stop and a 34-yard Desmond King punt return, Beathard drove the Hawkeyes to a go-ahead touchdown with 2:14 left and a 31-17 win.

Quotable: "Like (offensive coordinator Greg) Davis was telling me,” Beathard said, “if we catch them with their pants down, we're going to take a shot.”

A long, finishing kick

Iowa senior kicker Marshall Koehn watches as he hits a 57-yard field goal that beat Pittsburgh, 27-24.

The situation: In a 24-24 game against Pittsburgh, Iowa gains 31 yards on six plays – capped by Beathard diving for eight yards and calling time out with 2 seconds left at the Panthers’ 39.

The play: From the left hash, senior placekicker Marshall Koehn wallops a 57-yard field goal through the north end zone uprights with room to spare. Iowa wins, 27-24.

The importance: The first night game at Kinnick Stadium since 2012 started with former Hawkeye Brett Greenwood making an inspirational walk to midfield. It ended with a mass celebration in a moment most of the 63,636 fans in attendance will never forget.

Quotable: “Our two-minute drill this week in practice was awful,” Ferentz said. “We were three downs and out. … But fortunately we saved it for tonight. It was a little better execution.”

Key fumble brings ‘Albert’ home

Iowa players celebrate the second of four trophy-game wins, 10-6 at Wisconsin on Oct. 3 in Madison, Wis.

The situation: With Iowa leading Wisconsin 10-6 midway through the fourth quarter at Camp Randall Stadium in the Big Ten opener, the Badgers have second-and-goal at the Hawkeyes’ 1.

The play: Defensive end Nate Meier, playing inside in Iowa’s goal-line package, shot between center Dan Voltz and right guard Micah Kapoi. The penetration forced Kapoi backwards, and he stepped on the foot of quarterback Joel Stave, who fumbled. Iowa’s Faith Ekakitie recovered at the 5-yard line, and the Hawkeyes held on to win by the same score.

The importance: Wisconsin had been 71-7 at home since 2004. Beating a ranked opponent on the road also gave Iowa its second of four rivalry wins, the Heartland Trophy – which Ott later dubbed “Albert the Bull,” named after a fixture in Audubon. More important, it put the 5-0 Hawkeyes in the surprising driver’s seat of the Big Ten West Division.

Quotable: “We kept saying, ‘If they don't score, they don't win,’” Ott said.

Canzeri carries the day

Jordan Canzeri is cheered by Iowa fans after a heroic 43-carry, 256-yard rushing performance to beat Illinois.

The situation: Iowa’s lead over Illinois is cut to 23-20 with 10:13 to play. Beathard is badly hurting, and true freshman James Daniels has been forced to play right tackle after Ike Boettger is injured. The ball is at the Hawkeyes’ 25.

The plays: Jordan Canzeri, this is your game. The oft-injured senior carries the ball 11 straight times, gaining four first downs and chewing nearly seven minutes off the clock and leading to a field goal and a 26-20 lead with 3:20 left.

The importance: Illinois knew Iowa couldn’t throw. And it still couldn’t stop Canzeri in a 29-20 Hawkeye win. The senior wound up with a school-record 43 carries for 256 yards (180 in the second half) and was named national offensive player of the week.

Quotable: “You never know what you're capable of until you push through the barriers that you previously had for yourself,” Canzeri said. “I never had that opportunity. I never had the chance. When asked to, I was willing to put everything on the line.”

The miraculous dive

C.J. Beathard dives into the end zone from 7 yards out to give Iowa a 21-17 halftime lead at Indiana.

The situation: Trailing 17-14 late in the first half at Indiana, Iowa has second-and-goal at the 7-yard line.

The play: Although Beathard is still hobbled with a groin injury, Davis sends in a quarterback draw. Beathard takes the snap, runs left and launches himself over a pile of Hoosiers and Hawkeyes for a 7-yard touchdown run and a 21-17 lead with 17 seconds left in the first half.

The importance: The eventual 35-27 win not only sent Iowa to a 9-0 record, it sent a message to teammates that Beathard was continuing to put his health on the line to keep the Hawkeyes undefeated. They would go on to win their final three games, with Beathard rushing for 50 yards and two more TDs the following week in a 40-35 win against Minnesota.

Quotable: “He’s been dealing with some injuries this year,” center Austin Blythe said, “and just for him to do that opened our eyes a little more to the competitor he is and what he’ll do for this team.”

10 more moments/plays considered

--The release of the Jan. 8 depth chart, anointing Beathard over Jake Rudock at quarterback

--Beathard avoiding a safety on one play, rushing for 57 yards the next at Iowa State

--Beathard’s go-ahead TD pass to Riley McCarron in Ames

--Cole Croston’s heady fumble recovery of a late Canzeri fumble at Wisconsin

--Canzeri’s 75-yard TD run in the second half against Illinois

--Akrum Wadley’s stunning relief performance after Canzeri was hurt at Northwestern (26 carries, 204 yards)

--Desmond King’s electric 88-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal the Maryland win

--“New Kirk” epitomized: A 21-yard reverse pass from Tevaun Smith to Matt VandeBerg vs. Minnesota

--Beathard’s audible leading to a 35-yard TD pass to George Kittle to change the Purdue game

--Canzeri’s back-to-back long touchdown runs at Nebraska in Black Friday finale