IOWA CITY, Iowa – The University of Iowa football team clinched the Big Ten West Division Championship defeating Illinois, 15-13, on Saturday night on Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium.
Deacon Hill was 19-for-29 on passing attempts for 167 yards and a touchdown. Leshon Williams led the team with 54 yards rushing on 16 attempts and Kaleb Johnson had 53 yards on 10 attempts and a touchdown.
“It has got to be the story of our season,” said Hill. “Just keep punching forward each and every play, each and every day. Keep moving forward, one step in front of the other. I think we did that today. We knew at some point one was going to break, and we just couldn’t let up. We couldn’t take our foot off the gas. You know, no matter the outcome of what that drive was, we knew that we had to keep pushing forward each and every play.”
Kaleb Brown led the Hawkeyes with 71 yards on seven receptions. Addison Ostrenga had a touchdown reception.
Defensively, Jay Higgins led the way with 12 tackles (six solo), Nick Jackson had eight tackles (three solo) and Jermari Harris had eight solo tackles. Joe Evans had a sack in the endzone for the third Iowa safety of the season.
“I feel like our main focus at the end of the day is figuring out a way to win games,” said Higgins. “You can really rally a team. We have a lot of guys that only care about winning a game and leaving it all out there. It’s been a lot of ups and downs, but we’ve done a good job at staying together, and that’s what keeps us moving forward.”
Iowa outgained Illinois 281-280 yards and had 114 yards on the ground to Illinois’ 65.
QUOTING KIRK FERENTZ
“Let me start out to say, happy doesn’t describe how I feel about our guys. I am proud of the effort everybody put in today and and really all season long. It has been a great group of guys to work with — the players, coaching staff — and I think that showed today, certainly.
We’ve gone through some bumps, had some things happen during the course of the year, even this week, losing a key player. But no matter what, the guys stayed together, stay tough, and really care about each other. I think that’s demonstrated in the play out there.
Today was no different. Probably a fitting way for us to get this done because there’s nothing easy today. Goes right down to the end there, certainly. Again, it points back to the character of the guys we have.
I was actually thinking about this today when I was taking my walk this morning, go back to 1981 when I walked in here not knowing anything about this university. Two guys I meet right off the bat, Andre Tippett, who’s a Hall of Fame player, college and unbelievable talent, unbelievable guy to this day, just a die-hard Hawkeye.
And Brad Webb on the other side, they were a tandem in that 3-4 in the defense. Brad is a walk-on from Chicago who ended up being a captain. Same characteristics, talking about a guy who is an NFL Hall of Famer, guy like Brad Webb, who went on to law school and is successful in his business life, all that stuff. That’s really what the game’s all about. That’s 40 some years ago. But that’s the beauty of this whole thing.
So really proud of our guys, just great group of guys to work with.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
- After an Iowa 3-and-out to open the game Tory Taylor pinned the Illini at the seven-yard line. On third down Joe Evans sacked the Illinois quarterback in the endzone for a safety.
- Illinois connected on a 52-yard field goal to cap an eight play 43-yard drive with 3:19 remaining in the first quarter.
- Deacon Hill connected with Addison Ostrenga for a four-yard touchdown catch to end a 14-play drive that eclipsed 7:59 seconds and 75 yards.
- Illinois answered back with a 10 play 75-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown rush.
- On the first play of the fourth quarter Illinois kicked a 29-yard field goal that ended a 69-play drive.
- Kaleb Johnson gave the Hawkeyes the lead with a 30-yard touchdown rush with 4:43 remaining in the game. The extra point attempt was blocked by Illinois.
- QB Deacon Hill completed 19-of-29 attempts for 167 yards and one touchdown – a 4-yarder in the second quarter.
- Hill has thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games and has five TD passes this season.
- Hill also had a career-long 12-yard rush for a first down in the second quarter.
- RB Leshon Williams had 16 carries for 54 yards to lead the team.
- Williams has led the team in rushing six times in 2023.
- RB Kaleb Johnson had the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter (30 yards) – his third touchdown of the season ninth of his career.
- TE Addison Ostrenga had a 4-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter – his second career touchdown.
- WR Kaleb Brown posted career-highs in catches (7) and receiving yards (71) and had the longest reception of his career (31).
- WR Nico Ragaini made five catches for 46 yards, moving into seventh place in the Iowa record books in career receptions (149). He has 1,567 career receiving yards – the 21st-most in school history.
- LB Jay Higgins had 12 tackles – his eighth game with 10 or more tackles this season (ninth of his career).
- Higgins has led the team in tackles in 10 of the 11 games.
- He now has 132, which is tied for 17th most in a single season in program history. (Chad Greenway, 2003)
- DL Joe Evans had a sack in the end zone in the first quarter, which resulted in a safety.
- Evans now has a team-best 5.5 sacks this season and 24 in his career, which are tied with Bill Ennis-Inge for sixth-most in program history.
- Punter Tory Taylor had eight punts for 413 yards, averaging 51.6 yards. He had six punts of 50+ yards and two punts downed inside the 20.
- With his 274 punts, Taylor moved into first place in school history in career punts, passing Jason Baker for the most punts in the Iowa record books. Taylor also holds the school record with 12,647 career punting yards.
- Iowa recorded its third safety of the season in the first quarter when Joe Evans sacked John Paddock in the end zone.
- It is the first time since 2018 that Iowa’s defense has had at least three safeties in a season.
- The Hawkeyes’ defense has scored 12 points in 2023 with one pick six and three safeties.
- Iowa’s defense finished with a season high 13 pass breakups – the most for the unit since at least 2009.
- The Hawkeyes had a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive over 7:59 in the second quarter. The 14 plays and 7:59 were both season highs.
- Iowa’s defense has allowed one touchdown or less in nine of the 11 games of 2023 and 18 of the last 24 games.
- Iowa has allowed 14 or fewer points in 17 of its last 24 games.
- Iowa’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns in the last five games.
- Illinois won the toss and deferred to the second half; Iowa will receive. The Hawkeyes have played 312 games under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has opened the game on offense 229 times (148-81). The Hawkeyes have opened the game on defense 83 times (47-36).
The Hawkeyes close out the regular season on Black Friday, traveling to Lincoln for a Heroes Game matchup against Nebraska. Game time is 11:09 a.m. (CT) and the game will be televised on CBS.