In one whiplash moment of emotion, Nate Kaeding zipped from strong, happy football player to choking back deep sobs.
The minute he set his eyes on his parents, Terry and Larry, the strong, happy kicker turned into a mess.
“Parents, grandma, grandpa, distant relatives, just seeing how caught up they get and how much pride they take in the way the team plays,” Kaeding said. “I don’t want to say it means more to them than it does to me, but when you can see it, it’s really a special thing for you.”
Without going too overboard with the whole senior day thing, No. 19
Minnesota really never had a chance Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The emotion of a senior day, sure that’s a factor. But at some point during the sobs and goodbyes, every senior on every senior day in every stadium has to play the game.
Iowa’s seniors can play.
Hawkeye seniors accounted for nearly all of Iowa’s points in the No. 20 Hawkeyes’ 40-22 victory before 70,397.
Iowa’s seniors belted out 34 of Iowa’s 40 points, with Kaeding’s four field goals boosting the Hawkeyes (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) to their 12th straight home victory, a Kinnick record.
Iowa’s 24 seniors, including 12 starters, went out winners and gave Iowa’s bowl possibilities a shot in the arm.
“You can’t get caught in the moment too much,” senior offensive tackle Robert Gallery said. “We had a game to play. I think everyone felt that was more important than anything.”
Senior quarterback Nathan Chandler completed 17 of 28 for 210 yards, an interception and a TD. Senior wide receiver Ramon Ochoa caught eight passes for 92 yards, both career highs, and a touchdown. Senior fullback Edgar Cervantes scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Junior Jermelle Lewis scored on a 34-yard run behind blocks from seniors Gallery and Ochoa.
Senior Bob Sanders made 12 tackles, including three forced fumbles, two tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Kaeding kicked field goals of 27, 55, 33 and 38 yards. The 55-yarder tied a careerlong for Kaeding. The celebratory leap after the kick was also a career high, and the Hawkeyes held a 20-6 halftime lead with two seconds left in the second quarter.
Yeah, sure, senior day is just another day at work.
“Just look at the wins and losses,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “These guys have seen the 1-10, 3-9 and now they’ve been a big part of us getting back to where they want to be.
“From walk-ons to highly recruited guys, just how they’ve pulled together and done something over the last four years is really special.”
This week might’ve been the biggest “pull together” all season.
A viral infection ripped through the Iowa football complex this week. There was a whooping cough scare to boot.
The carnage included sophomore defensive tackle Matt Neubauer and sophomore tight end Mike Follett, who looked like “mummies,” Ferentz said, and were sent home after breakfast.
Offensive tackle C.J. Barkema and offensive line coach Reese Morgan went down sick Tuesday. Six to eight players needed antibiotics at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Before pregame warmups Saturday, Gallery threw up in a bucket outside the lockerroom door.
“It was almost comical, but it wasn’t comical,” Ferentz said. “It’s been that kind of week for us. But when the bell sounded, they really answered.”
The flu thingie did more damage to Iowa than the Gophers (9-3, 5-3).
Never mind the stats, too.
The Gophers won the stat game, big time.
Minnesota ran 97 plays and rolled up 563 yards, including 175 yards rushing, to Iowa’s 344 yards of total offense. Quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq completed 28 of 46 passes for 388 yards and an interception.
And there’s the glitch for the Gophers.
They had supermodel stats pocked by four fumbles and an interception.
“So much for statistics,” Minnesota Coach Glen Mason said. “As I’ve said so many times, figures lie and liars figure.”
The five takeaways were a season-high for the Hawkeyes, who entered Saturday’s game minus-2 in turnover margin. Entering the game, Minnesota had just 11 turnovers (five fumbles) all season.
The real two-handed head-clutcher came with just more than two minutes left before halftime.
True freshman running back Laurence Maroney – carrying the bulk after sophomore Marion Barber III injured a groin after two rushes for 25 yards – busted through the goal line for what looked to be a 2-yard TD run to pull the Gophers within 17-13 at half.
But Sanders crashed in from the outside, stripped the ball and covered it at Iowa’s 6-inch line.
“I thought the guy handed Bob the ball,” said senior Howard Hodges, who made 12 tackles. “All you saw was the guy had the ball, Bob hit him and then Bob popped up with the ball. I was like, ‘Did he hand it off?’ ”
Sanders thought he had Maroney’s foot.
“I just fell inside and ended up on top of the ball,” Sanders said. “No handoff, I just tried to go inside and landed on it.”
Nope, no handoff.
But then, no one ever gave anything to these Iowa seniors. Heck, Iowa barely gave Sanders a scholarship. Ferentz had to be talked into it, beating out Ohio University.
Think about that a minute. And then go get the bucket.