IOWA CITY, Ia. — There’s a straight line in Kinnick Stadium lore from Rob Houghtlin to Daniel Murray to Keith Duncan.
When big games were on the line, all three kickers kept it straight.
On Saturday, it was Duncan’s turn. The true freshman walk-on sent a 33-yard field goal through the uprights as time expired to give Iowa a 14-13 victory over No. 3 Michigan, unleashing a frenzy as roughly half of the 70,585 fans in attendance rushed to the field and milled about long after the players departed.
“When I felt it off my foot, I knew it was in,” Duncan said. “You really know right away off your foot. It’s just the sound of the ball and how heavy it hits off your foot.”
Houghtlin’s 29-yarder in 1985 gave top-ranked Iowa a 12-10 victory over No. 2 Michigan in perhaps the greatest game in Kinnick history.
Murray nailed a 31-yarder at the final horn in 2008 to send No. 2 Penn State to a 24-23 defeat and end its national championship hopes.
Saturday’s improbable upset came one week after the Hawkeyes were demolished in another night game, at Penn State.
The win made Iowa bowl-eligible. It handed Michigan its first loss of a season to further shake up the college football rankings on a day that No. 2 Clemson and No. 4 Washington also lost.
For Iowa’s fans and players, though, the moment of triumph felt like a catharsis. The Hawkeyes had lost their past three games at Kinnick and were flattened 41-14 at Penn State to fall to 5-4 after beginning the season ranked 15th in the country.
So no players were complaining when they looked up and saw a never-ending throng of black-clad Hawkeye fans streaming to the playing surface to join the jubilation. It was the first time that had happened at Kinnick since Murray felled the Nittany Lions eight years ago.
Current Iowa linebacker Bo Bower attended that game, but he said he was sitting so high up that he didn’t make it down to the field. Saturday was an entirely different experience.
“I just sat back and put my arms out and let it all happen,” Bower said. “A lot of people started hitting me actually, surprisingly, pretty hard. So that was kind of a wake-up call. But it’s so worth it. It was awesome.”
Offensive lineman Sean Welsh went to join his teammates in a big pile after Duncan’s kick went through.
“I didn’t notice it until I turned around a couple seconds later, and, ‘Oh, shoot, half the stadium’s on the field,’” Welsh said. “I’ve never been hit on the head and the butt so much in my entire life.”
Iowa’s rally from a 10-0 deficit was kick-started by Duncan’s close friend, punter Ron Coluzzi.
The senior boomed a kick that traveled 54 yards, skittered sideways and came to rest at Michigan’s 2-yard line midway through the second quarter.
Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson made the momentum swing complete two plays later, when he burst through Michigan’s offensive line and buried running back De’Veon Smith a yard deep in the end zone for a safety.
Johnson said the Wolverines had some miscommunication on the play, giving him the gap he needed.
“That really hyped us up,” Johnson said. “You keep competing and moments like this will happen.”
Emboldened, the Hawkeyes drove 52 yards for a touchdown late in the half, passing up a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, blitzed heavily, lofted a pass to tailback Akrum Wadley, who easily danced into the end zone to cut the deficit to 10-8 at halftime after a two-point conversion failed.
“That was a big surprise. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t,” Wadley said of the decision to go for a touchdown. “I saw both of the linemen shoot right past me and I fake like I’m blocking and slip right past them and score. Just how they drew it up.”
Wadley carried 23 times for 115 yards and caught another five passes for 52 yards to provide 167 of Iowa’s total of 230 yards.
Iowa picked up more momentum by recovering a Michigan fumble on the second-half kickoff. Jack Hockaday pried the ball loose from Khalid Hill and Brady Ross fell on it before it could reach Iowa’s sideline.
That set up Duncan’s first field goal, from 25 yards, and gave the Hawkeyes their first lead at 11-10.
That score held up until the fourth quarter, the first time Michigan (9-1, 6-1 Big Ten Conference) had trailed so late in a game all year.
Michigan caught a break on an apparent punt when Iowa’s Brandon Snyder was flagged for roughing the center, a 15-yard infraction that set up Allen’s 51-yard field goal and a 13-11 lead with 9:35 remaining.
But Iowa’s defense kept getting stops, limiting Michigan to 201 yards. Finally, a facemask penalty on an Iowa punt return put the Hawkeyes at the Michigan 36-yard line with 1:23 left.
A screen pass to Wadley picked up 10 yards. Beathard scampered up the middle for eights yards to reach the 15-yard line and put Duncan in the exact middle of the field for his shot at Hawkeye history. Three seconds remained.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called timeout to try to ice the young Hawkeye kicker. Coluzzi, the holder, kept his distance.
“A lot of people think before a game-winning field goal you’ve got to go up to the kicker and say this or say that. But you’ve just got to leave him alone,” Coluzzi said.
“He was really mature. Carried himself well.”
The icing didn’t work. Duncan split the uprights, turned and bolted back up the field as bedlam ensued.
“I just took off. I didn’t know what to do. You don’t really practice these things,” Duncan said. “I was just running and then I saw the fans. That was pretty cool.
“It was definitely the biggest kick of my career so far.”
No kidding. Duncan is a Hawkeye football legend now.
So is this game.