IOWA CITY — Beware the Ides of November in Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes are the saboteurs of seasons, the pillagers of perfection. They are the destroyers of dreams.
Iowa football is marking its fourth-straight season without a Big Ten West title. So the Hawkeyes have acted like spoiled behemoths and ruined things for someone else that still had hopes of really big things.
Saturday, it was a 23-19 win over 9-0, No. 8 Minnesota. Three years ago it was a walk-off November win here over 9-0, No. 3 Michigan. In 2017 it was a November obliteration of No. 3 Ohio State, effectively costing the eventual league champs a spot in the national playoff.
You can call it schadenfreude, the pleasure that comes from someone else’s misfortune. But it wasn’t. It was producing pleasure from leaving your own tough times behind and rising up to conquer a fine opponent.
“I guess we spoiled their season or their whole playoff or whatever,” said Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. “We did what we had to do. That’s all we focused on.”
The Gophers wanted to get to 10-0, put a hammerlock on the West, keep the possibility of a battle of unbeatens against Ohio State in Indianapolis alive. The Hawkeyes just wanted to beat a good Big Ten team for a change after coming up one score short against Michigan and Penn State and, the week before, a yard short on a 2-point conversion try against Wisconsin.
Minnesota came in thinking about the West title trophy. Iowa’s goal had less grandeur, retaining Floyd of Rosedale. But based on the passion and focus the Hawkeyes brought to this game and the fans rushing the field after it, that chubby bronzed pig carried a lot of weight.
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“It was never theirs to begin with,” said Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston. “We just wanted it to say in Iowa City.”
Then there was the Gophers’ “Row the Boat” mantra they bring wherever they go.
“We were talking about sinking the boat all week,” Golston said.
Who was? The coaches? The players? The equipment manager?
“It wasn’t said,” Golston said. “But it was said.”
Just like Minnesota had a great passing game (368 yards and nine completions for 15 yards or more), but didn’t have enough of a great passing game.
“We finished in the red zone for sure,” said Hawkeye cornerback Riley Moss, whose interception of a Hail Mary on the last Gopher offensive play sealed the win.
Minnesota got the ball with 1:32 left and 80 yards to go for the win, but only went backward until Moss’ pick.
“We practice for moments like this,” said Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa. “I was telling the D-line before we headed on the field ‘It’s on us, it’s on the defense. This is what we want. This is a big-time moment and we’re big-time players, and we’re here to make plays.’ ”
That defense then made back-to-back sacks and forced an incompletion before Moss closed things.
Epenesa had one of those sacks and 2.5 of Iowa’s six this day. He was great. He is great.
And senior quarterback Nate Stanley? He was very good with his arm, his head, and even his feet. His 8-yard run on third-and-2 at the Minnesota 31 set up a short Keith Duncan fourth-quarter field goal to make it 23-13.
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Oft-maligned for his mobility or lack thereof, Stanley scrambled for something big out of seemingly nothing with a shifty sideline move to cap the play. Where did he learn that, he was questioned later.
“My mom,” he said. “Definitely my mom.”
Asked to elaborate, Stanley said he was “joking around a little bit with that.”
It may have been the first time he ever kidded the media.
“Just trying to have some fun,” he said as he left the interview room, then told Epenesa “I loosened ‘em up for you” in a hallway as they traded places.
Everyone on the team seemed loose afterward. Another close loss to a ranked team would have gutted this team and left the season without a signature home win. Instead, there was a field storm and SchadenFloyd.
“I let the big boys bull rush and bring that pig back home,” Smith-Marsette said, mixing his mammals. “Me, I’m gonna celebrate.”
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