They brought the entire state of Ohio and a big red stadium to their knees.
In the end, it was too much. It was just too much for the No. 15 Hawkeyes. It was too audacious for the football Gods to allow. It was so close and yet it was so far.
The Hawkeyes pushed the big red Horsehoe to the brink with a freshman quarterback who barely shaves, their first kick return for a TD in 242 returns and a running back who had a high-ankle sprain three weeks ago and called himself about “85 percent” healthy.
They lost, 27-24 in overtime, but they went down with all the guts and grunt that got them to a Big Ten championship game, which is what Saturday really was.
No. 10 Ohio State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) clinched a share of its fifth straight Big Ten title. Coach Jim Tressel accepted a bouquet of roses and the Buckeyes’ first Rose Bowl bid since the 1997 game.
The Hawkeyes (9-2, 5-2) ran out of magic.
“One thing about this team … ” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after running down a list of the injuries and noting the performance of freshman quarterback James Vandenberg, “We’ve got this, we’ve got that. we’ve got all kinds of things going on, but you can’t rule these guys out.
“You think we’re on the mat and, boom, we came right back in.”
Fourth-and-26, the magic ran out.
That was the down and distance on Vandenberg’s final pass, which ended up in the arms of safety Anderson Russell. After the pick, OSU kicker Devin Barclay squeezed a 39-yard field goal inside the left upright and Ohio Stadium spilled out to the big red “O” in the middle of the field.
Ohio State will receive 27,000 Rose Bowl tickets today.
“I’ll see you at Pasadena,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said as he left the postgame mike, with Rose Bowl roses in tow.
The Hawkeyes’ overtime possession was disastrous.
Vandenberg tried to hit tight end Allen Reisner on first down but Reisner was wearing an OSU defender. Running back Adam Robinson, who jumped into the lineup after Brandon Wegher was ruled out with a rib injury during warm-ups, lost 6 yards on second down. Ohio State got its first and only sack of the game on third, with tackle Doug Worthington getting Vandenberg around the ankles for a 10-yard loss.
That set up fourth-and-26.
“It was just a brain cramp on me,” said Vandenberg, who finished 20 of 33 for 233 yards, two TDs and three interceptions. “They went to a coverage they hadn’t played all night. We didn’t have anyone open and I was just thinking get it off and that guy appeared out of nowhere. I’ve got to get rid of that. That’s on me.”
In the end, Iowa was undone by Iowa. Yes, Ohio State rushed for a massive 229 yards, with backs Brandon Saine (103 yards) and Dan Herron (97) leading the way, but Iowa undid Iowa, too.
A dropped TD pass. A missed 22-yard field goal. A questionable horse collar penalty that lead to a TD. Three interceptions. Five dropped passes.
That was too much help for the Buckeyes, at big red Ohio Stadium with more than 105,455 fans, with red Roses and a title on the line.
“Came up a little short,” Ferentz said. “Wasn’t for lack of effort and not playing hard. I’m proud of this football team.
First question for Ferentz was the thinking on the Hawkeyes’ last possession of regulation. The Hawkeyes had first down at their 33 with 52 seconds left and a timeout.
Robinson, who finished with 74 yards and 20 carries, was stopped for no gain on first down. Then Iowa took a delay-of-game penalty and ran out the last few seconds, taking a 24-24 game into overtime.
“If we would’ve gotten something good out of the punt return or would’ve popped that first play, then we would’ve kicked it in gear,” Ferentz said. “We were second-and-10 with 70 or 80 yards to go, just figured at that point to go to overtime.”
Down 24-10 after Brandon Saine’s 49-yard TD run with 13:03 left to go, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos broke a 99-yard kick return for a TD, Iowa’s first since the 2003 Orange Bowl. Then Vandenberg directed an eight-play, 70-yard TD drive, capped by Marvin McNutt’s 10-yard TD reception, his second of the game.
That made it 24-24 with 2:42 left. Then, overtime. Then, the regret of coming close.
Now, Minnesota (6-5, 3-4). Iowa, No. 10 in the BCS standings, has an outside shot at a BCS at-large bowl bid. It doesn’t have time for regret.
They pushed the big red stadium to the brink. Could almost touch their first victory here since 1991. So close, they could smell the roses.
“No regrets, everybody laid it out there on the line,” linebacker A.J. Edds said. “I think everyone can look in the mirror and say we gave it everything we had. No regrets.”