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IOWA CITY, Ia. — The stadium was striped. The sky was dark. At long last, the Badgers were in town. A cauldron full of energy and anticipation finally bubbled over Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium.

What say you, Hawkeyes?

A game Iowa fans had circled, highlighted for months and marked heavily with permanent ink lived up to the hype it had generated for months. At stake was the Big Ten Conference's West divisional driver’s seat, as well as a chance to alter the narrative in a rivalry that’s been leaning Wisconsin’s way.

Iowa sputtered just short on the finish line.

Alex Hornibrook’s 17-yard TD pass to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds to play — coupled with a late Alec Ingold touchdown run — handed the Hawkeyes a gut-punch loss, 28-17. A crowd that had been jazzed all night went home stunned.

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Iowa snagged a 17-14 lead late in the third quarter, but the Hawkeyes couldn’t put 16th-ranked Wisconsin away when it had chances in the fourth. The Badgers wavered back and forth on offense, but a strong final drive — followed by a Nate Stanley interception — closed the book on Iowa’s upset bid.

LEISTKOW: Hawkeyes fail at the little things in crushing loss to Wisconsin

Defensive letdown late

The Hawkeyes defense did a decent job of keeping Hornibrook in check up until that final drive. The Wisconsin quarterback isn’t necessarily known for his offensive prowess, but the southpaw made the throws when needed down the stretch.

Hornibrook was 5-for-5 on the game-clinching drive, consistently keeping Wisconsin moving as the clock ticked down. Iowa could’ve salvaged overtime had it bowed up to force a field goal, but Nick Niemann fell down on the Taylor TD to end it.     

Divisional sting

Two teams that don’t rely on beauty points leaned on their strengths Saturday in a classic Big Ten affair. Iowa had a chance to prove it had supplanted Wisconsin as the Big Ten West favorite, but the Badgers shook off last week’s shocking loss to BYU for a huge win.

The Hawkeyes aren’t out of the divisional race with a ton of season left, but they’ll need to be essentially perfect the rest of the way. That means no slip-ups, plus likely a big road win at Penn State.

A costly loss in that regard, no doubt.

Tight end love

National and local media piled on the preseason tight end hype — and Saturday showed why. T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant catapulted Iowa’s offense when needed, injecting life into the Hawkeyes’ passing game.

The bulk of Hockenson’s career-high 115 receiving yards came on two catches — one for 46, one for 45. The former set up Iowa’s first touchdown, while the latter led to a Hawkeye field goal early in the third.

Fant held his own, too. He caught just three passes — but two went for touchdowns, including one late in the third quarter that handed Iowa a 17-14 advantage. It didn’t hold, but the tight ends again proved their worth.    

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.

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