The Iowa fullback was confident he was going to score when his number was called. Mark Emmert/HawkCentral
NEW YORK — Drake Kulick had four rushing attempts in his four seasons as an Iowa fullback.
But he said he wasn't surprised to learn that he would be carrying the ball with 3 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in Wednesday's Pinstripe Bowl and a chance to end a postseason losing streak that was gnawing at his senior class.
"I knew if my number's called I was going to get it done," Kulick said after burrowing into the end zone from a foot out to give the Hawkeyes a 27-20 victory over Boston College.
"It's a play that we ran many times. It's not like it was the first time I'd ever done it."
What Kulick had done was score his first career rushing touchdown in his final college game and hand Iowa its first bowl victory in its last six tries.
If that sounds like an improbable ending for the walk-on from Muscatine, that's not how he saw it.
"It's kind of the way we're built is to be a fourth-quarter team," Kulick said. "We were in our comfort zone there."
The Hawkeyes (8-5) trailed 17-10 after a first half in which they were outgained 281-56 and were being manhandled on both sides of the ball on the frigid Yankee Stadium surface.
The second half saw a more determined Hawkeye team emerge. Senior running back Akrum Wadley scored a five-yard touchdown to tie the score in the third quarter.
Miguel Recinos sliced a 38-yard field goal through the evening chill for a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Boston College responded with its lone score of the second half and netted the tying field goal with 8:09 remaining.
But Iowa was the more disciplined team throughout the game, and that paid off late. Hawkeye defensive end Anthony Nelson swooped in from the left side of the line and hit Boston College quarterback Darius Wade just as he was preparing to throw. Parker Hesse, the other defensive end, fell to the frozen turf to cradle it.
It was the second of three Boston College turnovers and helped turn the tide. The Eagles (7-6) entered play 18th nationally in turnover margin but never forced one against Iowa. They also committed six costly penalties for 57 yards despite being the nation's best team in that category during the regular season. Iowa was flagged only three times for 20 yards.
The Hawkeyes marched quickly after the Nelson/Hesse fumble connection. Wadley ran for 27 yards on the next play to the Boston College 18-yard line.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley then faded to pass and spied an unfamiliar target wide open. Stanley hesitated, then lofted the football to sophomore tight end Nate Wieting, who extended his 6-foot-4 frame to its maximum height to grab the pass before angling toward the end zone. It was Wieting's first career catch and it brought him within a foot of his first touchdown.
That set up Kulick's score, which did not come easily.
"They obviously knew it was coming. The ball's on the six-inch line. The game was tied 20-20. So there was going to be no give in those guys," Kulick said of a Boston College defense that gave up only 200 yards. "So it was one of those things where you bow up and you go and you get it done."
Kulick took the handoff from Stanley and found little room on the right side of Iowa's offensive line. He appeared to be stopped. He kept pushing. Finally, the officials signaled touchdown and Kulick celebrated as if scoring touchdowns was the most natural thing in the world.
"I wasn't going to reach the ball across the goal line because it was first down, so I certainly wasn't going to jeopardize maybe putting the ball on the ground," Kulick said. "But I saw that my eyes crossed the goal line and then my chest crossed the goal line, so I knew that I was in."
And with that his career was over, finally with a victory to show for the season's final game.
"We didn't want to finish our careers on a low note and having never won a bowl game," Kulick said. "You don't put in all this work. You don't spend all the time that we spend in the season and the offseason and then in bowl prep to come out and not put on your best performance and win."
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had a quaver in his voice when talking about his senior class of 18, a group that won 28 games over the past three seasons but inevitably felt disappointed at the end. Until Wednesday.
"These guys kept pushing forward," Ferentz said. "Certainly there were some times this year where everybody could have gotten discouraged, but I just give those guys a lot of credit.
"That's the neatest thing about football. We have such a large, diverse group, and when those guys are working together, it's fun."
Middle linebacker Josey Jewell, a three-year captain and unanimous all-American is the leader of the senior class. He finished with 11 tackles despite battling an illness. He finished with 437 career tackles to rank fourth all-time in Hawkeye history. Not bad for a lightly recruited kid from Decorah.
Afterward, he was already looking toward a future at Iowa that he won't be a part of.
"To be able to end any season with a win is awesome and should give you a good feeling on how you played the season," Jewell said.
"Hopefully, this team and the younger guys can keep this going into next season, too."
Kulick's last act as an Iowa football player helped bury a narrative that younger Hawkeye players won't have to carry with them.
The Iowa Hawkeyes are bowl game champions at last.