An oral history of the craziest Iowa vs. Northern Iowa football game ever, from those who lived it
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nine years later, Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz still speaks with wonder of the “miracle finish” that enabled his Hawkeyes to escape a poised and determined Northern Iowa team on a picture-perfect Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
It was the most remarkable win in what would become a memorable 2009 season for Iowa, one that was nearly derailed at the outset.
For the underdog Panthers, it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot at history that ended with not one, but two kicks to the stomach and a feeling of “what if” that still lingers.
“I mean, what can you say about it?” Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said this week as he prepares to bring another team to Kinnick for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday (Big Ten Network). “We got to the fourth quarter in the game. We made some plays, and we just didn’t make the kick.”
In the record books, it was a 17-16 Iowa victory over a team that it hasn’t lost to since 1898. In the minds of those who participated that day, it was so much more. What follows is an oral history of the craziest Hawkeye-Panther game ever.
THE FIRST WORD
RYAN MAHAFFEY WAS A JUNIOR TIGHT END FOR THE PANTHERS: “We had a pretty veteran team. We were a team that was very confident and obviously there’s motivation there anytime you’re playing a Power 5 opponent and you’re at an FCS school. You feel that people aren’t giving you a chance to win that game, and I think we thought that was disrespectful.”
BRODERICK BINNS WAS A SOPHOMORE DEFENSIVE END MAKING HIS FIRST START FOR THE HAWKEYES: “I don’t think we took them lightly. Clearly, they weren’t scared of Iowa and of Kinnick Stadium. Because they played their balls off.”
THE FIRST HALF, NORTHERN IOWA LEADS 10-3
Iowa got a 39-yard field goal from Daniel Murray on its opening drive. But the Panthers cashed in a Ricky Stanzi fumble to pull even when Billy Hallgren also nailed a 39-yarder.
HALLGREN, THEN A JUNIOR KICKER, IS THE PANTHERS’ ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER WITH 364 POINTS: “There was some jitters there for that first one. But after that, I calmed down and I really got in the zone and ended up having a pretty good game.”
MAHAFFEY SCORED ON A 14-YARD PASS FROM PAT GRACE: “I was basically acting like I was going to block the ‘Will’ linebacker and there was a stutter-and-go and I was going to snap the route off back in behind him and Pat Grace made a great throw. I had to lay out for it a little bit. I guess I wasn’t fast enough to get there on my feet.”
PAT ANGERER WAS IOWA’S MIDDLE LINEBACKER: “They ran that play against us my freshman year in the same situation. So we knew exactly what was going to happen. I was trying to get the guys lined up and they snapped it quick and I was like, ‘Uh, oh.’ I thought I was in pretty good position, but he made a great play.”
THE SECOND HALF, THINGS GET WEIRD
A Hallgren 34-yard field goal put the Panthers ahead 13-3 before the Hawkeyes started getting their running game going. Adam Robinson scored on an 11-yard run and Stanzi found tight end Tony Moeaki for a 6-yard TD pass for a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter. Hallgren hit again from 39 yards out to trim the deficit to 17-16, with 4:26 left.
BINNS: “They took it to us. We were trying to stop the bleeding. No matter what we were doing, blitzing, there were a few times when we got to (Grace), but he was still completing passes. The quarterback that day was not fazed.”
GRACE WAS A 6-FOOT-2, 240-POUND SENIOR WHO THREW FOR 270 YARDS: “You’ve got to keep your composure, especially at that position. You get a lot of attention. If you’re getting down, it’s easy for your team to get down.”
HALLGREN: “Once I made the third field goal, it calmed my nerves quite a bit, knowing that it was a close game and that it might come down to a field goal.”
ONE FINAL DRIVE
Northern Iowa got the ball back at its 18-yard line, with 2:14 left. Grace completed 6-of-7 passes to quickly move his team into Iowa territory. Carlos Anderson ran six yards to the Iowa 23 and the Panthers took a timeout with 7 seconds left to set up a game-winning 40-yard field goal try. It was first down.
ANGERER: “We knew we were going to be off the field and we were going to win this thing and go home. All of the sudden, they’re sitting there in field-goal position and we were like, ‘Oh, man, we’re going to have to make a play.’ It was either block or miss.”
MAHAFFEY WAS ON THE FAR RIGHT OF THE UNI LINE: “We knew obviously they were going to bring pressure. You get in that type of situation, you know you’re going to have to anchor down in there. Billy had had some success as a kicker, so I was like, ‘Here we go. Let’s hold the line and we’re going to win this game.’”
GRACE: “I was on the complete other side of the field on the other 30-yard line on a knee and had all the confidence in the world. Billy Hallgren is a tremendous kicker.”
HALLGREN: “With the noise in the stadium, we couldn’t go off of our usual cadence. The entire game, we had to go off hand signals, and I think that was my fifth kick of the game because I had an extra point in there, and Iowa’s a good team. They can pick up on things. That’s one thing looking back I wish we would’ve changed. We never changed our hand signal. So as soon as we snapped the ball, (the Hawkeyes) were going. Usually, you get that little buffer in there. You get that pause, which can make a world of difference.”
BINNS: “I remember Jeremiha (Hunter) telling us, the defensive line, ‘Get your hands up because the kicker has a low trajectory.’ I remember that going through my head as the first field goal went, and so as best I could, I just tried to get lower than the guard that I was over and just get a hand up. Honestly, he kicked it right off my (right) hand.’ And then I remember celebrating, ‘Hey, we won the game.’”
MAHAFFEY: “The ball went out there to my right. I knew that if I could get on it and there was time still left that we’d have the opportunity to line up and kick it again. I was just trying to do what I could to get on the ball and hope and pray that there was a little time on the clock.”
BINNS: “What we were told by our coaches is that if the ball is on our side of the line of scrimmage, leave it alone. Don’t touch it. But if the ball is on their side, pick it up. Go score a touchdown. And if you look back on that play, literally I don’t blame (Tyler) Sash. I don’t blame Jeremiha Hunter for not picking it up. It’s like right on that line between on our side and on their side. It’s a tough play. Heat of the moment.” (It was also the only blocked field goal of Binns’ career).
HALLGREN: “There was a long delay, a very unique situation. I think both teams didn’t know what was actually going on. I don’t think anyone was prepared that we would even kick it again. I know I stayed on the field and it felt like an eternity but was probably only a couple of minutes that they had the review. Then I was ecstatic I got one more shot at this.”
A SECOND KICK, DÉJÀ VU
Mahaffey had fallen on the ball with one second remaining. The officials declared that it was behind the Panthers' line of scrimmage, giving Hallgren one more shot at a game-winning 41-yard field goal from the right hash mark.
MAHAFFEY: “The second one, I was like, ‘OK, they blocked the first one. We’re still 41 yards away.’ I’m like, ‘We’re making this. The absolute worst thing that could have happened just happened.’”
ANGERER: “My job is to guard the tight end. I did the first time. The second time I didn’t. so they probably could have faked it and scored, although it would have taken a lot of balls. We all went for the block.”
BINNS: “We got great penetration again and Jeremiha got in the air and got his hand on it, and Pat Angerer jumps on the ball and we’re out celebrating. It went by so fast.”
ANGERER: “Me and Jeremiha, one of us was going to block it. He got it because he’s a little more athletic than me. By that point, you know what? Screw it. Jump on the freaking football and be done with it. Let’s get the hell out of here. I have no idea what happened to the football. Everybody just started jumping on me.”
HALLGREN: “They sent the house and they were going off our hand signal and they caught a great push. It’s pretty deflating. I can’t say for certain, but if they don’t block those, I’m pretty confident that those are going in.”
THE FINAL WORDS
GRACE: “I said to Billy, ‘This is 100 percent not on you.’ I said, ‘We had offensive linemen miss blocks. I missed throws. I made bad reads. I’m sure a defender missed a tackle.’ I said, ‘Keep your head up and let’s go win our next football game.’” (The Panthers finished 7-4)
MAHAFFEY: “I wish we could have been remembered for ending the drought of 100 years of Iowa winning that football game. But we felt proud of how we represented the university that day and all the guys that had come before us. You always remember the losses more than you remember the wins and I think that’s one that’s hung with all of us.”
HALLGREN: “The whole month was kind of a blur. You go from having that happen to getting on a bus 30 minutes later, driving back to Cedar Falls and then seeing yourself on ESPN for a week, two weeks, a month straight. I think about that game a lot. I just think about the what-ifs, a lot of what-ifs. It’s frequently brought up. But I’m not going to hang my head. I had a good game. It’s just unfortunate the way it unfolded.”
BINNS: “If we had lost that game, we would not have been Orange Bowl champs. (The Hawkeyes finished 11-2 and ranked seventh in the nation). It definitely gave us a spark going into Iowa State. We had to play a lot better. It did set up our whole season.”
ANGERER: “You realized you have some guys that aren’t going to give up on each other. We had a group of guys that were going to fight. It was as much fun as I ever had playing football. Those guys, that group of men that we had, was special. To this day, I’d fight for any of them. If they called me, I’ve got their back.”
NORTHERN IOWA (0-1) at IOWA (2-0)
Where: Kinnick Stadium
When: 6:40 p.m. Saturday
TV: Big Ten Network or Big Ten Network overflow channel, check local listings (Chris Vosters and Chuck Long)
Weather: Mostly sunny and 80 degrees. Winds from the east at 4 mph.