NEW YORK CITY — A premonition hit Parker Hesse at the best time possible.
It was a critical moment in the Pinstripe Bowl. Boston College took possession at midfield with the game tied at 20 and 5 minutes, 22 seconds left.
Hesse turned a teammate, whose name he forgets, and mentioned one name: Anthony Nelson.
“We just feel that Anthony is going to come up with a play,” Hesse said.
Hesse didn’t just foreshadow a big moment for Nelson. He sensed the strip sack that set in motion the key stretch that ensured Iowa snapped its five-game bowl losing streak by beating the Golden Eagles 27-20 in Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night.
“To get the turnover there, that really gave us a spark,” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When you’re in a game like that, sparks are huge.”
For a long time it didn’t look like one was coming. The Eagles outplayed the Hawkeyes in the first half and built a 17-10 lead at the break.
Everything Iowa can’t afford to do to win a game — allow rushing yards, give up big pass plays, and struggle with both its rushing attack and offensive line play — merged together all at once in those first 30 minutes.
But the Hawkeyes persevered. They shut down the Eagles, allowing only 102 total yards in the second half. They clawed their way to a 20-17 fourth quarter lead before Boston College quickly tied it up. With only a few minutes remaining, the next big play could flip the game.
This is where the game sat as Nelson got into his stance on a third-and-8 at the 50-yard line. His quick first step gave him an angle on Boston College right tackle Chris Lindstrom. He took a few more steps and in what seemed like a perfectly timed move, knocked the ball out of quarterback Darius Wade’s hand.
Except, the way Nelson tells it, he didn’t mean to do it. It was as much luck as anything else.
“I was just trying to get around [Lindstrom],” Nelson said. “It was a balance thing and I tried to wrap [Wade] up and then the ball is on the ground.”
It landed right at Hesse’s feet.
“When I saw it hit the ground I was pretty excited and I had to get on it,” Hesse said.
Said Nelson: “If Parker doesn’t get on that ball the play isn’t nearly as big so he deserves a ton of credit on that play.”
Building the fire
There was plenty of praise to go around, but it was, after all, just a spark. It didn’t give Iowa a lead. The Hawkeyes needed to nurture the flame if it was to become something more.
The offense took care of that. Running back Akrum Wadley, on his way to 283 all-purpose yards and bowl MVP honors, ripped off a 27-yard run, breaking two tackles to put Iowa at Boston College’s 18-yard line.
After facing heavy pressure nearly every time he dropped back, quarterback Nate Stanley had time to throw. He made the most of it, going through nearly all of his progressions before finding tight end Nate Wieting on a crossing route.
Wieting dove into the end zone with officials initially calling it a touchdown, but a replay ruled him down at the 1-yard line. The change set up the most unlikely play of the day: A fullback dive.
Drake Kulick only carried the ball once all season before the first-and-goal play, yet he swears the call from offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz didn’t surprise him.
“Not necessarily,” Kulick said. “I know that Brian trusts me and that Brian trusts our offensive line and that when we are six inches from the goal line no need to put the ball any further back than it needs to be.”
The Hawkeyes wouldn’t gain six harder inches all day. Kulick took the handoff and dove right into the line. A host of Boston College defenders met him. Kulick kept churning his feet, but seemed stuck in place until running back James Butler, with a running start, pushed Kulick from behind.
It moved him forward, but not enough to cross the goal line. Tackle Levi Paulsen and tight end Peter Pekar fell forward into the end zone, sending Kulick there, as well.
FULLBACK TD! Drake Kulick with the go ahead TD and HR swing! pic.twitter.com/Wl7YDl9qBt
— HeavensBarstool (@HeavensHawkeye) December 28, 2017
“I couldn’t feel anything” Kulick said. “I was only focused on squeezing the ball and pushing myself. I felt that surge and I felt myself go over the goal line.”
It was a sight to behold, especially for center James Daniels. A defensive tackle cut him upon the snap. On the ground, Daniels’ only option was to look up as the play unfolded.
“It was pretty cool,” Daniels said.
Game-winning touchdowns usually are. Ones that allow the Hawkeyes to run on the field in celebration after a bowl game for the first time since 2010 are even better.
It doesn’t happen without Nelson’s spark and Kulick fanning the flame.
“That is the kind of team we are,” Kulick said. “We are going to grind it out. It may not always be pretty, but we are going to fight for the whole four quarters and it’s just kind of how we are built and what we prepare for.”
In the end, Iowa needed an Iowa-type of performance to end the bowl drought. There is nothing more Iowa than laboring through a 1-yard touchdown run.
It’s fitting. You don’t need a premonition to tell you that.