CHICAGO — Long live the Big Ten West.
In one of the more aesthetically displeasing games in Northwestern history, a 52-yard field goal with 14 seconds left from Drew Stevens lifted Iowa (7-2, 4-2 B1G) to a 10-7 victory over the Wildcats (4-5, 2-4 B1G) at Wrigley Field.
There wasn’t much offensive production from either team. Brendan Sullivan threw for 81 yards and a touchdown on 12-for-19 passing. Anthony Tyus II led the ‘Cats with 40 yards on 10 carries, with Cam Porter contributing 36 yards on 12 rushes. Bryce Kirtz was the leading receiver with 33 yards on three catches.
For Iowa, Deacon Hill totaled 65 yards on 10-for-15 passing, throwing a touchdown and an interception. Leshon Williams led the way on the ground with 24 carries for 79 yards.
Defensively, Xander Mueller accumulated 19 tackles in the losing effort, while Jay Higgins racked up 12 tackles and a sack for Iowa.
Starting at its own 24-yard line, Iowa pounded it on the ground. Garnett Hollis Jr. and Xander Mueller held Leshon Williams for gains of four apiece on the game’s first two plays, but Hollis then committed a pass interference penalty on a third-and-2. An eight-yard run from Williams and a sneak from Deacon Hill moved the chains again to put the Hawkeyes at midfield.
NU forced yet another third-down thanks to some powerful run stuffs from Devin Turner, but another pass interference call on Theran Johnson at the Wildcats’ 34-yard line extended the drive. However, the ‘Cats stiffened up, with a strip sack from Jaylen Pate forcing Iowa out of field goal range. Tory Taylor’s 27-yard punt set Northwestern up at its own 12.
The Wildcats went nowhere. Nick Jackson punctuated a three-and-out with a sack of Brendan Sullivan. Cooper DeJean appeared to break free for a 45-yard punt return, but a block in the back brought the Hawkeyes back to their own 37-yard line.
Penalties continued to buoy Iowa, with Hollis committing another pass interference penalty on an incompletion intended for Diante Vines. At the NU 34, though, the Wildcats firmed up on defense again. Mueller blew up a third-and-9 screen to Williams for a loss of four, which prompted Kirk Ferentz to trot out Drew Stevens for a 53-yard field goal attempt. It had the distance, but clanged off the right goalpost to set Northwestern up at its own 36.
Runs of eight and three from Cam Porter gave NU its first fresh set of downs on the afternoon. Just as the ‘Cats were working their way into Iowa territory, though, a miscommunication on the snap between Sullivan and center Ben Wrather almost led to disaster. The ball flew right past Sullivan, who didn’t appear to anticipate the snap. Although Porter recovered it, the mistake led to a loss of 17 and an ensuing punt that brought the first quarter to an end.
Hill, who completed his first five pass attempts, found Addison Ostrenga and Vines for gains of six and eight, respectively. A sideline interference penalty on Northwestern exacerbated the latter, which placed Iowa at the NU 30. After a four-yard run by Vines, Hill took an end zone shot intended for Nico Ragaini. However, Johnson covered the route perfectly, and rose up for an interception in the back right corner of the end zone.
Sullivan quickly picked up a first down with a seven-yard scamper. Anthony Tyus III set up another third-and-short with two carries for eight yards, but a false start on Josh Thompson moved the ‘Cats back. Although Cam Johnson created some separation on DeJean, he couldn’t haul in a deep throw by Sullivan down the right sideline, which brought up another punt.
The last nine minutes of the first half were as uneventful as they could be. Both teams traded punts three times, which brought the half to a close with the score still standing at 0-0. As Hill took a knee on the half’s final play, he was met with a chorus of boos. It marked Northwestern’s first game in which it played in a 0-0 first half since its game against Michigan in 2014.
The Wildcats accumulated just 29 total yards in the first half, while surrendering almost double that number (51) on penalties. Both teams combined for a whopping 1.9 yards per play. Iowa found itself in Northwestern territory on 38% of its plays, and couldn’t put up a single point. Clearly, this game was on Peacock for a reason.
The fun (or lack thereof) continued through the beginning of the third quarter, when Iowa forced a three-and-out. The Hawkeyes made their first big play of the day on Renner’s ensuing punt, as Anterio Thompson blocked it. That set up Hill and Co. at Northwestern’s 25-yard line.
Remarkably, Iowa capitalized. Thirty-six minutes into the contest, Ostrenga scored the first points of the day with a two-yard touchdown reception off a play action pass from Hill. Stevens knocked the extra point through, which gave Iowa a 7-0 lead with 9:04 left in the third quarter.
The Wildcats responded with some offensive momentum. Sullivan found Johnson for an 11-yard gain, and a pair of scrambles for eight yards each put Northwestern at around midfield. On a third-and-4, the QB and Johnson appeared to connect again for a diving five-yard reception, but the officials later reversed the call and ruled that the ball touched the ground.
On Iowa’s next possession, Hill nearly threw a costly interception. Kenny Soares Jr. had him wrapped up, but he tried to force an incompletion that bounced off Mueller’s hands. From there, the drive stalled, and Tory Taylor let his fifth punt of the day fly for 38 yards. A few plays later, the third quarter came to a close, with Iowa maintaining its 7-0 lead.
NU again drove into Iowa territory, with Tyus rushing for nine on a third-and-short to advance the ball to the Hawkeyes’ 39-yard line. It was Northwestern’s best field position of the day to that point. Tyus and Porter moved the chains again with back-to-back runs of eight and six yards. Even though a hold on Braeden Edwards moved the ‘Cats back to the Iowa 32, another 14-yard catch by Johnson set up a third-and-4. After two more runs from Tyus, Northwestern found itself at the 13-yard line.
Two plays later, DeJean committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone on a throw intended for Bryce Kirtz. Northwestern had four downs to get two yards, and even up the score.
It failed. As chants of “Let’s Go Hawks” made the Friendly Confines seem anything but friendly, Iowa stuffed a sneak from Sullivan, two runs from Porter and another fourth-down sneak by Sullivan went nowhere. The Hawkeyes fans against the end zone roared after the goal-line stand, and Iowa took over possession with 6:36 to play.
Northwestern forced another three-and-out, and A.J. Henning gave it life with a 23-yard return on a short punt, which set it up at the Iowa 22. Following two short runs from Tyus, Sullivan rolled out on a third-and-6 and found Kirtz to move the chains.
No. 6 ran for seven yards, but got wrapped up by DeJean for a loss of one on the next play. On a third-and-4, Sullivan found Johnson in the back of the end zone, and fired a five-yard touchdown. Jack Olsen’s extra point was money, and Northwestern tied the game at 7-7 with 1:46.
Then, Hill came alive. A throw to Ragaini for eight yards set Iowa in motion, but a deep completion to Kaleb Brown for 23 yards — the longest play of the game — flipped the field. Iowa was now at the Northwestern 38. The Hawkeyes couldn’t move the ball much further, which set up a 52-yard field goal attempt for Stevens.
After missing one from 53 earlier, Stevens’ kick split the uprights. Iowa had retaken the lead with 14 seconds to go. Despite an 18-yard catch by Kirtz, the Wildcats ran out of time, with Sullivan fumbling as the game concluded.
Northwestern will head up to Camp Randall next Saturday to take on Wisconsin. The game will be broadcast on FS1 at 2:30 p.m. CT.