Leistikow: Miracle Hawkeyes believed, proved doubters wrong

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Believe it.

As true as Keith Duncan's kick through Kinnick Stadium's south end zone uprights, this happened.

Unimaginable history was repeated under the lights.

Almost eight years to the day after one of the most stirring finishes here, a true freshman became the new hero of 2016. Duncan's 33-yard field goal as time expired resulted in Iowa's stunning 14-13 triumph over third-ranked Michigan.

"We knew we had an opportunity," cornerback Desmond King said, "and we believed we could do it."

Fans swarmed the field and engulfed the walk-on from North Carolina as he sprinted across the field with unrelenting joy, much like Daniel Murray did in 2008 when his 31-yarder through the same goalposts shocked the nation's 9-0 and No. 3 team that year, Penn State.

Same record and ranking as Michigan this year.

Murray's kick, by the way, came four days after a historic presidential election. So did Duncan's, with most of the nation cheering him on.

“It’s one of those things we’ll remember for the rest of your life," quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "We talked about that all week. We said, 'If we win this game, you dang well know the crowd is going to storm the field.'”

Iowa's Jaleel Johnson tackles Michigan's De'Veon Smith in the end zone for a safety during their game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016.

Somehow, players kept the faith.

"We believed," running back Akrum Wadley said. "We stayed together, we stuck together throughout the game, throughout the week."

Listen to Gary Dolphin call Iowa's upset over Michigan

Raise your hand if you thought Iowa would even stay within three touchdowns of the vaunted Wolverines.

Now, keep your hand up if you thought Iowa would outright beat the team with the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense and No. 3-ranked scoring offense.

Mine’s sure down.

Although I thought the Hawkeyes would deliver a Saturday-night fight at sold-out, blacked-out Kinnick, I didn’t think it would be nearly enough. I thought the disparity in schemes and talent would overwhelm an Iowa team that was listless a week ago at Penn State.

And in talking to so many fans about this matchup all week, I know I had plenty of company.

Instead, the zany Jim Harbaugh left Kinnick's pink locker room just like he did in 1985 as a player for Michigan: as a loser after a walk-off field goal.

Meanwhile, Kirk Ferentz proved why he’s stuck around for 18 years.

What a gameplan.

What execution.

What a win.

A 24-point underdog by the time the game started, the Hawkeyes orchestrated a power-running attack to try to chip away at the clock and an incredibly athletic Michigan defense.

It seemed like too much to ask, a week after the Hawkeyes were taken to the proverbial woodshed in a 41-14 thrashing at Penn State.

But ... it happened.

And once Iowa neared the finish line — taking an 11-10 lead into the fourth quarter — the idea of a moral victory was out the window. As the immortal Ricky Bobby put it: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

These fans and players wanted to taste victory again, something they hadn’t experienced at home in more than two months after three consecutive home losses to North Dakota State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

Saturday was the first time Iowa was on the ABC national stage since Jan. 1, when Stanford shellacked many of these same Hawkeye players 44-16 in the Rose Bowl. Especially after what happened last week in Happy Valley, doubts had to creep in this week, right?

Ferentz picked the team back up.

"Really simply, you've only got two options," Ferentz said. "You surrender and mope and feel sorry for yourself, or you do something about it. But easier said than done."

Let’s start with back slaps and a sheet of helmet stickers (if Iowa gave those) for every Hawkeye defensive player.

Michigan — which averaged 48 points and 497.4 yards per game — gained 201 yards. Two hundred one. That's it.

A week ago, Iowa gave up 599 yards to Penn State, the most by any Hawkeye opponent since 1999.

Josey Jewell was all over the place, as usual.

King was a blanket in coverage against his home-state team, and his punt return made up for an earlier unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty to help set up the winning drive.

Jaleel Johnson was a beast. The defensive tackle had a career-high nine tackles, including when he swallowed up De’Veon Smith for the game-turning safety in the second quarter.

Fifth-year senior Anthony Gair, sparsely used in his career, played an inspired game at safety after Miles Taylor was knocked out on Michigan’s first scrimmage play.

True freshman Manny Rugamba played terrific in relief of injured Greg Mabin, ripping away an interception late in the fourth quarter from Jehu Chesson to give Iowa momentum and hope.

Mighty Michigan averaged 3.3 yards a play, a week after Penn State averaged 8.6.

“Everyone played with a lot more passion tonight," linebacker Bo Bower said. "Everyone was flying to the ball. When a person maybe messed up, somebody was there to clean it up."

On offense, it was a struggle as usual. But this time, the play calls had unpredictability, all the way to the finish — Beathard’s 8-yard quarterback draw on third-and-7 set up Duncan’s winning strike from the middle of the field.

Excellent decision by Greg Davis to (obviously read my DVR Monday column and) feature Wadley.

Wadley was given a season-high 23 carries and rushed for 115 yards. He led the team with five receptions for 52 yards, including the 3-yard touchdown grab on fourth-and-goal just before halftime to cut the Michigan lead to 10-8 and give Iowa plenty of life entering the locker room.

“The momentum swing changed right before half," Beathard said. "We went into the locker room at halftime feeling pretty good.”

The program needed this kind of energy — especially with 65 recruits in the house.

Iowa (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten Conference) is bowl-eligible now. Even getting a postseason bid felt iffy before Saturday, the way things were going.

Now, if the Hawkeyes beat Illinois next week, they’ll return home for the Black Friday finale against Nebraska with at least an outside shot at a tie for the Big Ten West Division title.

This season and this program have some juice again, just when it seemed like it was leaking away.

North Dakota State trolls Michigan after Iowa upsets Wolverines

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.