EAST LANSING, Mich. — When the world ends and planet earth is a frozen cue ball in space, there will be cockroaches and there will be Hawkeyes.
Iowa had it when it needed it in a 19-16 double-overtime victory Saturday before 70,211 fans at Spartan Stadium. Michigan State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) controlled tempo behind monster running back Le’Veon Bell. The Spartans defense kept Iowa’s offense crumpled most of the day, allowing just 12 yards on 13 carries in the first half.
On the road, against the Big Ten’s best defense, in the rain, into a decent southerly wind, after sputter city for 3 1/2 quarters, facing a first-and-24 after a clipping penalty and trailing 13-6, the Hawkeyes (4-2, 2-0) found it when they needed it, when they hadn’t had it all day.
Running back Mark Weisman’s right ankle ended up in a walking boot in the postgame, but he scored a 5-yard TD to tie the game 13-13 with 55 seconds left. Mike Meyer’s 42-yard field goal in the second overtime ended up winning it.
“Everything went right,” said Meyer, who went 4-for-4 in a game where every point mattered. “It was a great snap and a great hold.”
It took 60 minutes and two OTs, but everything did finally go right for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes found it when the offense faced a first-and-24 from its own 18, needing a TD to tie the game. They found it on a second-and-26 during the drive. They found it in the end, when defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat stuck his left hand in the air and just flicked an Andrew Maxwell pass that went through Keith Mumphery’s hands and into Iowa cornerback Greg Castillo’s arms.
“I didn’t know what to do at first,” said Castillo, a fifth-year senior who started because junior B.J. Lowery didn’t make the trip. “It took a second for it to sink in.”
Take a second, let this one sink in.
Hawkeyes sprinted onto the field. Hawkeyes skipped over to the corner of Spartan Stadium to celebrate with fans who made the trip. Hawkeyes rattled the rafters of a cramped lockerroom with a fast and furious rendition of the school fight song.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg threw an interception on the game’s first possession. Bell, who rushed 29 times for 140 yards, tromped in from the 14. Dan Conroy kicked a 24-yard field goal and the Spartans led 10-0 early in the second quarter.
Meyer kicked field goals of 23 and 28 yards to keep the Hawkeyes alive. And then finally — in the fourth quarter, after eight Iowa punts and seven three-and-outs — a shear of light.
First-and-24, second-and-26, they found it.
Vandenberg completed a 35-yard pass to wide receiver Keenan Davis for a first down on the second-and-26 play. Vandenberg finished with 134 passing yards, so 26 percent of his total yardage came on this play.
“I felt it turn when it was first-and-25,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said about the set up to the final drive. “Oh boy, that’s not good. Huge play, and we didn’t make many big plays today, but huge play by James and Keenan.”
You know how quarterbacks and receivers always talk about “windows” to describe the moment when a receiver breaks open. This wasn’t a window as much as it was a mail slot.
“It wasn’t really a big window, but it was a window we had to get through,” said Davis, who caught six passes for 65 yards. “It was a play we had to make, something we had to do.”
Then, on third-and-6 from Michigan State’s 45, Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis went all the way back to week 1 and called a zone run to the left. Weisman broke through for a 37-yard gain to MSU’s 8. Then, he suffered an ankle injury on his 5-yard TD run on third down that tied it.
“Maybe it caught them off guard,” Weisman, who finished with 26 carries for 116 yards, said about the 37-yarder on third down. “Maybe not . . . I think it was the offensive line. They set the edge out there. They make it easy.”
If the Davis completion and Weisman runs were shears of light, the rest of it for Iowa was a series of low percussions.
Iowa won the overtime toss and forced MSU into a field goal on its possession in the first OT. Iowa settled for Meyer’s 27-yarder when Vandenberg threw incomplete to running back Greg Garmon on third down, making it 16-16.
Iowa gained one yard in the second OT possession. Meyer saved the Hawkeyes with his 42-yarder.
“I think the greatest piece of advice I’ve gotten was when Nate Kaeding [former all-American kicker at Iowa now with the San Diego Chargers] told me to treat every kick like it was a Super Bowl-winning kick,” said Meyer, who’s made 14 of 15 this season. “I take that mentality into everything.”
Trinca-Pasat’s left hand, probably a fingertip, was the final low percussion. It led to the end of Michigan State’s world.
“I think we have to look at where we are as a program right now and what’s the next step for us,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said.
Iowa danced with its fans in the corner of Spartan Stadium. The Hawkeyes were the survivors on this cold, wet cue ball.