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By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa --
Stanzi to McNutt holds a cherished spot in University of Iowa football history.
"It was a good moment," said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz
. "A good, collaborative effort."
Ricky Stanzi's 7-yard touchdown pass to Marvin McNutt, on the final play of the game, gave No. 7 Iowa a 15-13 victory at Michigan State on Oct. 24, 2009.
It ended a wild fourth quarter that didn't resemble the first three, gave Iowa an 8-0 record for the first time in school history, and was the latest in a series of comeback victories on the road. Earlier that season, the Hawkeyes trailed at Iowa State, Penn State and Wisconsin before rallying to win.
It was a game dominated by defense for more than three quarters, but ended with both teams scoring touchdowns in the final two minutes. It also involved some trickery that took Ferentz back to his college days at the University of Connecticut.
Daniel Murray's third field goal of the game had given Iowa its first lead, 9-6, with just under three minutes to play.
"Points were so hard to get in that game," Ferentz said. "It was a tough defensive game."
On the ensuing possession, Iowa's defense had the Spartans in a precarious third-and-18 hole. But the old hook-and-ladder play changed that. With the ball on the Michigan State 33, quarterback Kirk Cousins found tight end Brian Linthicum for an 11-yard gain. Then Linthicum tossed a lateral to wide receiver Blair White, who took it all the way to the Hawkeye 30 for a first down.
Bring up that hook-and-ladder, and Ferentz tells the tale of a car accident he was in as a collegian.
"My roommate rolled his car," Ferentz said. "We were coming down a hill in one of those old Volkswagens, and it started swerving on ice. The front end caught an embankment. He popped out of the car. The car finally settled. I looked back and he's up the road 40 or 50 yards. We both walked away fine."
The accident, Ferentz said, unfolded in slow motion. Just like that hook-and-ladder play.
"From the sideline you could just see them setting it up," Ferentz said. "You could see the execution. It was like, 'Seriously?' "
Two plays later, Cousins found White for a 30-yard touchdown pass and a 13-9 lead with 1:32 remaining. Iowa responded.
"Somehow we found a way to put a drive together," Ferentz said. "Both teams had struggled to get yardage or points. That's the flow of football sometimes. Nobody can score, and then all of a sudden they get one and then we get one."
Of Iowa's 276 yards of total offense that game, 142 came on its final two drives. Sixty of Michigan State's 310 yards came on its final drive.
Starting at his own 30, Stanzi moved Iowa down the field at a rapid pace. There were completions of 16 yards to McNutt, 21 to Trey Stross, and 16 to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
"We came up with some big passes and completions," Ferentz said. "The protection was good. The next thing you know we're down there, and we have a chance to win. Then you have to find a way to win."
A defensive holding call on Michigan State's Chris Rucker wiped out an interception and gave the Hawkeyes a first down at the Spartan 7.
"Those are so subjective, those calls," Ferentz said. "An offensive coach always thinks it's holding and every defensive coach says, 'What are you talking about?' It depends on how the official interprets it. I was glad to see the flag, certainly."
Stanzi tried to hit tight end Tony Moeaki on first down, but he was covered in the end zone. Stross was the target on second and third down, both incompletions. It all came down to one final play.
"We had used up every call we had," said Ken O'Keefe
, Iowa's offensive coordinator at the time. "Pat Narduzzi was the (Michigan State) defensive coordinator then. He brought the house. We called a time out, brought everybody over to the sideline to talk about what we were going to do.
"Marvin felt strongly about being able to beat the guy who was playing him. I felt strongly about the formation and what we could do to take advantage of that."
McNutt, lined up to Stanzi's left, ran a slant pattern and got inside leverage on Rucker. Stanzi found him for the game winner.
"They brought it one more time," O'Keefe said. "Stanzi made the throw, and Marvin made the catch, and that was it."
A grueling, intense Big Ten duel was over.
"For 60 minutes, basically, you're on edge," Ferentz said. "When your players have a good fundamental basis, you have a chance to execute things like that. If not, you have to bank on luck. That's a bad thing to bank on. That being said, the other guys (Michigan State) were well coached, too, especially on defense. It's not like they give you anything easy."
In the end, Iowa got the last word. A Stanzi-to-McNutt connection that remains a celebrated moment of the Ferentz era.
"It ended up being the right call at the right time, and we had the execution," Ferentz said. "Having two good players on the receiving and throwing end helps."
The victory was Iowa's 14th in 15 games. Six had been decided by a field goal or less.
"You're involved in a lot of close games," Ferentz said. "So how you can execute, especially in the fourth quarter, is critical. It's something we try to make sure our guys are mindful of."