John Elway provided the sports world with "The Drive" against the Cleveland Browns in 1987. The Hall of Fame Broncos quarterback led his team on a 98-yard, fourth- quarter touchdown march in an AFC Championship game victory. Elway proved to be the master of the late comeback during his wonderful career.
Iowa won't likely replace or share the Wikipedia entry for "The Drive" held by Elway and his gang, but the Hawkeyes put together an impressive one on Saturday to clinch a 24-14 victory against Northern Illinois. The winners traveled 80 yards in nine plays after the Huskies had pulled to within three points halfway through the fourth quarter at Kinnick Stadium.
"We had confidence that we could get it done," Iowa Tight End Scott Chandler said. "We had been making plays on them all day and should have blown it open in the first half. We knew that we could do it all day, it was just a matter of getting it done."
Things weren't looking good for the home team. The Hawkeyes hadn't shown a whole lot of recent evidence that they had it in them, either. Dropped passes, missed field goals and inopportune penalties allowed the underdog Huskies to hang around.
Just to make the situation a little more interesting, a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start stepped under center to lead Iowa on "Its Drive." Jake Christensen took the ball clinging to a 17-14 lead with 8:24 remaining in regulation. Northern Illinois had scored two unanswered touchdowns after the Hawkeyes built a 17-0 advantage in the first half.
The Huskies limited the home team to 46 yards in the its three previous second half possessions, which included Iowa beginning two drives on the NIU 41 and 49. The Hawkeyes had converted only one of four third down opportunities since halftime.
"Our defense was playing tough the entire game," Iowa Running Back Albert Young said. "Their offense actually got something going. It was more like, it's time to react and cash in. That's the attitude we took in the huddle."
Following an 11-play, 78-yard scoring march by NIU that cut the Iowa lead to three, the Hawkeyes took over on their 20.
"We knew when they scored that we had to respond right away," Left Tackle Marshal Yanda said.
Young started things on the right foot with an 11-yard run through some solid blocking. After a three yard rush by Young, Christensen connected with tight end Tony Moeaki for 13 yards and another first down at the Iowa 34.
High energy was flowing in the huddle.
"Everybody is a little louder out there," Yanda said. "Everybody is talking a little bit more. It was kind of like we emphasize on the goal line, we got up to the line and fired off of the ball."
On the next play, Christensen found an open Andy Brodell on a crossing route for 35 yards down to the visitors' 34. However, on the next snap, the young quarterback was flushed out of the pocket and sacked for a nine-yard loss.
The kid picked himself up, dusted off and fired a 24-yard completion to Chandler for another first. Then, things got shaky. A pair of Young runs resulted in six yards, setting up a third and four. Christensen then tossed an incompletion to Chandler.
The situation left Iowa with a decision – trot out Kyle Schlicher for a 27-yard attempt after the senior already missed two from inside the 40 earlier in the day or go for it. Even with a field goal, Iowa would allow NIU a chance to win the game with a TD and a conversion. Go for it on fourth and miss, the Huskies would start their drive from their own 10.
The Hawkeyes decided to roll the dice and go for the first down. Christensen dropped back and weaved a pass through the defense into the hands of Chandler, who strolled into the end zone from 10 yards. After tripping and stumbling through the second half on offense, Iowa answered the bell, something it hadn't done against Indiana a few weeks earlier when it relinquished a big lead in a 31-28 upset loss.
"It was a little hot route and Jake put it out in front of me and we were able to get it in," Chandler said. "I should probably learn to protect myself a little better getting into the end zone (he was drilled by a NIU defensive back). It knocked the wind out of me a little bit."
Chandler said that the offense was pushing to go for it on fourth down and ready to convert. Christensen said that he thought he threw the ball to far wide of his tight end.
"He did a great job putting it out on my hands," Chandler said. "Sometimes it helps to be 6-7 and have long arms."
Chandler wasn't surprised that the Hawkeyes went for it on fourth down despite there being a freshman at the controls.
"I mean, you watch the guy play all day, he did a great job all day," the tight end said. "He made the throws when we needed him to all day. We didn't always catch them. That's something where he didn't get down; he didn't get frustrated; he didn't start yelling at us or anything. He just stayed in there, stayed composed and kept going out there and throwing it."
Young saw a relaxed Christensen in the huddle.
"Jake doesn't panic," the running back said. "He's been here for awhile. He was poised for the entire game. As you see, he was able to make the plays when we needed it."
While Christensen, Young and Chandler contributed their plays on Iowa's key drive, they received loads of help from a determined offensive line. The front allowed a sack on the march and gave up four on the day, but also paved the way for Young and provided a lot of time for its young quarterback to throw.
"That's where we want to be," Yanda said. "We want the team to put the game in our hands and be able to respond. The defense played phenomenal today. They gave us every opportunity. When it came down to crunch time, I would want it any other way than to be on us five."