Climbing the bare cement steps up from the Iowa locker room, safety Tyler Sash knew the exact words his mother would utter after seeing her crushed son.
“Everything happens for a reason,” she’d say.
The sting of Iowa’s 17-10 loss to Northwestern was not only evident as football players walked defeated into the tunnel, but the devastating emotion could be felt as it seeped through Kinnick Stadium. Fans lingered past game time, many immobile — just breathing in the painfully stale air.
The loss not only cost the Hawkeyes’ a potential national championship, it also cost them their starting quarterback in Ricky Stanzi. The Mentor, Ohio, native suffered a severe ankle sprain in the second quarter and did not return.
Although the offense is forced to evolve under the new leadership of redshirt freshman James Vandenberg, Iowa’s defense totes the same stout men who have been stopping opponents all season long. And it showed despite the loss.
“If you’re looking at the defensive side [on Nov. 7], they held the wildcats to 10 [points],” Ferentz said. “Most circumstances, 10 points is going to get you a win. I’m not surprised by that.”
Sash was just as surprised.
“We gave up 10 points, but we still didn’t get the job done,” he said.
On the play where Stanzi went down, the junior fumbled a ball batted away by Northwestern’s Corey Wootton, which was recovered by Marshall Thomas for the Wildcats’ first touchdown.
As Stanzi lay on the Kinnick turf shaken up, the sideline understood that defensive plays would be crucial in keeping Iowa’s undefeated hopes alive.
“We just knew we had to step up,” free safety Joe Conklin said. “There was a real sense of urgency. We went over and talked with James and said, ‘James, this is your time.’ ”
The Wildcats continued to score, though. Once on quarterback Dan Persa’s 4-yard pass to slot back Drake Dunsmore in the first half. Northwestern extended its lead in the fourth quarter when Stefan Demos kicked a 47-yard field goal.
“We shouldn’t have let them score,” Angerer said, finishing with a game-high 17 tackles. “And that’s on us. If they don’t score, we win.”
Northwestern quarterbacks Persa and Mike Kafka were still significantly limited during the game because of the Hawkeyes’ defensive prowess. Iowa racked up three sacks for a loss of 22 yards by Broderick Binns, Adrian Clayborn, Mike Daniels, and Christian Ballard. Karl Klug also tallied two pass breakups and one quarterback hurry on the game.
The Wildcats netted only 109 passing yards but were 9-of-18 on third down conversions. In Stanzi’s four completions, he netted 134 yards.
Northwestern tailbacks — Scott Concannon, Arby Fields, and Stephen Simmons — were also stalled in production, netting only 76 yards. Persa led with 67 rushing yards.
Inside Kinnick, the Iowa defense performed its domineering play but was unable to put points on the board via turnovers.
For Sash, though, it was still hard to believe that a comeback wasn’t in the cards. The undefeated magic was over.
“As a competitor, you want to say, ‘We are just one play away. One play away,’ ” he said. “We just didn’t catch a break like we have been the last couple weeks. … This team is going to rally. We’ll keep our heads up. We’re still playing for a Big Ten championship. We’re still 9-1.”