IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ron Coluzzi made one demand. No one, he said, will approach Keith Duncan before the biggest kick of his life.
“You’ve just got to leave him alone,” Coluzzi said.
The Iowa players listened. An upset of No. 3 Michigan and one of the biggest wins in the program’s last 30 years was all that hung in the balance. The Hawkeyes were down for anything that helped him convert on the potential 33-yard game-winning field goal.
“I did my best to keep everybody away from him,” said Coluzzi, the Hawkeyes’ punter and — most importantly for this magical moment — the holder on the field goal try.
It wasn’t a problem for cornerback Desmond King. He was too busy trying to will Iowa through this moment. He knew no one outside the locker room though the Hawkeyes could be here, trailing 13-11 with a chip shot kick to get a win. It was only a week before that No. 10 Penn State dismantled Iowa, 41-14.
But he believed. It’s what coach Kirk Ferentz preached. Move ahead to the next game. Get lost in the details. It’s the only way the Hawkeyes know how to respond. It got them to this point, going blow for blow with Jim Harbaugh’s juggernaut.
A 15-yard facemask penalty on a King punt return put Iowa on the Michigan 36-yard line with 1:23 left. Now, the 24-point underdog was about to do the seemingly impossible and King thought back to the last big Iowa kick here.
“It was just a repeat of Pittsburgh last year,” said King about the 27-24 victory, “just playing to the end, not giving up.”
Like many teammates, quarterback C.J. Beathard prayed. He also looked up toward the videoboard.
“You get a great view of the kick,” Beathard said.
The fact Iowa stood here seemed almost surreal. Beathard threw for only 66 yards. Running back Akrum Wadley gashed the brick wall that was the Michigan defense for 115 rushing yards, but Iowa only scored one touchdown. Beathard’s interception late in the fourth quarter seemed to seal the game. It turned out his 8-yard run on a quarterback draw on third-and-7 one play earlier would likely help do it instead.
“My focus was just do not fumble the ball,” Beathard said.
It was a shock his attention didn’t turn to Josey Jewell. The linebacker made a promise earlier in the week.
Give the defense 14 points. We’ll win the game.
Jewell did think he was one kick away from becoming a prophet. He was too busy standing with the other linebackers waiting to see what came next.
The moment was too much for Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t watch, even though Michigan kept seeing him make big plays.
His second quarter safety put the Hawkeyes on the scoreboard. His second-quarter sack showed Iowa could play with the massive Michigan offensive line. His team-high 9 tackles were instrumental in Iowa holding the third- highest-scoring team in the country to one touchdown and 201 total yards.
“If you keep competing, then moments like this will happen,” Johnson said.
Duncan hoped he was in one now. Three seconds remained. He stuck to his routine, taking four steps back before shuffling twice to his left. His chance was now, until Michigan called timeout.
“I had a feeling they would do it,” said Duncan in a quote Iowa released after the game.
It was best thing for the freshman.
“We love to get iced,” said Coluzzi, the holder and a kicker. “It gives us more time to feel the atmosphere and feel the environment and get used to it. It kind of calms our nerves too.”
Just have fun. It was the last bit of advice Coluzzi gave Duncan before the kicked. Not that he thought the kid needed it.
“He is very mature,” Coluzzi said. “He carries himself differently.”
It didn’t stop Ferentz from thinking about Duncan’s missed 38-yard kick against Wisconsin on Oct. 22. He also thought about the work Duncan put in, all the field goals he hit over the last few weeks.
He showed improvement. Now, it needed to take hold.
Upon the whistle, Ferentz hunkered down in coach mode. He hoped the snap was on point. Same with the hold and the blocking. He wanted to see good kicking mechanics.
“You just have to have faith in your guys that they’re going to get it done,” Ferentz said.
Like Johnson, safety Anthony Gair couldn’t watch. Too much happened this season. Too many games turned into losses for the preseason Big Ten West favorites. He felt Iowa deserved a payoff. It came when the roar of the crowd rushed over him.
He knew Iowa had won 14-13.
“I looked up and I opened up and, wow, this is amazing,” Gair said.
Mardi Gras broke out on Kinnick Stadium. Fans flooded the field. Duncan took off running.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “You don’t really practice these things. I was just running and then I saw the fans. That was pretty cool.”
King watched fans storm a field. He never took part in a celebration like this before. He was glad not to be in the dogpile. Coluzzi thought his leg would get broken in the middle of it.
“Keith was screaming, ‘get off of me,’ ” Coluzzi said. “It was intense. It was a lot of fun.”
Johnson ran into a girl he knew from class. “She gave me a million high fives,” Johnson said.
Slowly, players made their way through the celebration and off the field. Fans created a tunnel and the Hawkeyes walked through single file as if in one big conga line. There were hugs and high fives for everyone.
“Just an incredible experience,” safety Brandon Snyder said.
It happened because a freshman kicker put a football through the uprights as time expired.
“It’s one of the best feelings ever,” Beathard said.