By Pat Harty
AMES, Iowa – Mother Nature apparently doesn’t realize the importance of this game.
Or maybe she doesn’t care because she sure made a nuisance of herself on Saturday, turning the annual showdown between Iowa and Iowa State into a soggy marathon that included two weather delays that lasted for just under three hours.
But when the adverse weather finally cleared, Saturday’s much anticipated matchup turned into a riveting contest that wasn’t decided until the very end.
And when the game finally ended approximately six hours after it had kicked off, the Iowa players celebrated a hard-fought 18-17 victory before a sellout crowd of 61,500 at Jack Trice Stadium.
The victory was Iowa’s fifth in a row against the Cyclones and it improved Iowa’s record to 3-0 heading into the first of two bye weeks this season.
The current five-game winning streak is also Kirk Ferentz's longest against Iowa State and is Iowa's longest winning streak in the series since winning 15 games in a row under Hayden Fry from 1983 to 1997.
"Needless to say, we're just really thrilled to get the victory tonight," Ferentz said. "It was hard fought. I'm very proud of our team and our staff and the resiliency that they showed throughout the entire game.
"One thing that you can almost bet on in this series is it's going to be a four-quarter game and today was certainly and obvioulsy that. A lot of ups and downs, including the weather, hard to script and prepare for that. But the bottom line is it was a real test to mental toughness and physical toughness. And I thought our guys did a great job against a team that played extremely well, and they're an outstanding football team, too. '
Junior kicker Keith Duncan made all four of his field-goal attempts and the Iowa defense made a late stand in the fourth quarter to help secure the victory.
Iowa State also fumbled a punt with 1 minute, 29 seconds left to play that was recovered by Iowa reserve defensive back Devonte Young at the Cyclone 21-yard line.
"I was like, finally, it's over because of all the delays and stuff, two delays in the game," Young said. "It just seemed like it was a long process. It was a hard-fought, back-to-back game. They had a lot of good plays, we had a lot of good plays. And it just came down to executing at the end."
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley took a knee on three consecutive plays to let time expire.
"Everybody did a great job of handling those delays and then were able to come out and excute after them," Stanley said.
The Iowa players helped to pass the time and stay energized during the second break, which lasted over two hours, by taking naps and by eating sandwiches that were purchased at three different places in Ames by members of the Iowa support staff, including some state troopers. The players hadn't eaten since late in the morning and were hungry by the time the second weather delay had occurred.
"I was so hungry," said Iowa junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa. "It's frustrating that that happens, but that's how it goes. Every team has experienced a rain delay. And if there's lightning in the area, there's lightning in the area. And there's rules, and that's how it went.
"And so we abided by the rules and we came back we just tried to keep stride and not lose focus and keep going."
Iowa prevailed on Saturday despite being without four players who started in the season opener against Miami of Ohio, including three on defense. The injured starters were cornerback Matt Hankins, free safety Kaevon Merriweather, defensive tackle Brady Reiff and offensive left tackle Alaric Jackson.
It was announced shortly before Saturday's kickoff that Hankins and Reiff were out with undisclosed injuries, while Merriweather and Jackson have missed the last two games.
Iowa State took a 17-15 lead on a 26-yard field goal by Brock Assalley with 7:46 left to play.
But there still was plenty of time for the Iowa offense, to erase the deficit and that's exactly what Stanley and his cohorts did.
Stanley completed a 28-yard pass to Brandon Smith that gave Iowa a first down at the Cyclone 27 with about six minutes remaining.
However, the drive stalled leaving Duncan with a 39-yard field goal attempt, which he converted with 4:51 remaining to put Iowa back on top, 18-17.
Saturday’s game showed just how even these two teams are as neither could sustain any momentum.
Just when you thought one team was poised to make a surge, the other team would do something to shift the momentum.
The Cyclones only needed two plays on their opening drive of the third quarter to score their second touchdown, which came on a 73-yard pass from quarterback Brock Purdy to Tarique Milton just 57 seconds into the quarter.
Milton’s touchdown, and the point-after kick, expanded Iowa State’s lead to 14-6.
Iowa was then forced to punt on its next possession and that’s when it felt like the Hawkeyes were in danger of letting the game slip away.
However, the third quarter ended with Iowa starting on offense at the Cyclone 25-yard line after a short punt, and with Iowa State clinging to a 14-9 lead.
Stanley then converted on 3rd-and-11 by scrambling for 12 yards and a first down deep in Iowa State territory.
Stanley ran for six yards to the Iowa State 4, and then junior running back Ivory Kelly-Martin gained three yards and a first down at the Iowa State 1.
Stanley then bulled into the end zone for Iowa’s only touchdown with 12:10 left to play, giving the Hawkeyes a 15-14 lead.
Iowa went for the two-point conversion, but Stanley’s pass was deflected and fell incomplete in the end zone.
Iowa cut the deficit to 14-9 on Duncan’s third field goal of the game, a 42-yarder with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
Duncan has made all of eight his field-goal attempts this season, including four from at least 40 yards.
He was asked after Saturday's game how that success felt compared to his true freshman season in 2016 when he made a field goal to defeat Michigan as time expired at Kinnick Stadium.
Duncan lost his starting job in 2017 to Miguel Recinos and was then redshirted that season. Recinos also handled the kicking duties last season as a senior, but now Duncan is back in the spotlight.
"It's an amazing feeling and I hope I can keep it going," Duncan said.
Graduate transfer punter Michael Sleep-Dalton also punted five times for a 47.2 average, helping to give Iowa a huge advantage on special teams.
And the success on special teams helped to offset the fact that Iowa State had a 418 to 313 advantage in total yards.
Iowa State was driving in Iowa territory in the second quarter when Iowa strong safety Geno Stone forced Purdy to fumble.
Sophomore free safety Jack Koerner, who started his second game in a row for the injured Kaevon Merriweather, recovered the fumble at the Iowa 19-yard line.
Iowa then drove into Iowa State territory and the first half finally ended nearly 4 ½ hours after it started with Duncan making a 40-yard field as time expired, trimming the deficit to 7-6 at the break.
Due to the weather delays, halftime was cut from 20 minutes to 17 minutes, which seemed to be an odd reduction, but anything that would accelerate the pace of the game at that stage was better than nothing.
It would be easy to use the weather as an excuse, but it shouldn’t have affected one team more than the other.
Stanley overcame the weather to comnplet 22-of-35 passes for 201 and zro interceptions. Stanley has yet to throw an interception this season and he also improved his record as a starter to 3-0 against Iowa State.
The drive from Iowa City to Ames was easy and uneventful, probably because we didn’t leave Iowa City until about 10:30 a.m. and because most of the fans were already knee-deep into tailgating by the time we arrived.
Finding a parking space, on the other hand, was a different story because by the time we had arrived in Ames, the media lot had been turned into a giant slab of mud due to the rain.
Combine the mud with the various smells coming from the parking lot and the atmosphere was similar to a Grateful Dead Concert minus the Dead Heads and tie dye shirts.
Mother Nature then made the game’s first significant stop with a 49-minute lightning delay that came with 7:18 left in the first quarter, and with Iowa leading 3-0 on a 25-yard field goal by Duncan that came on Iowa’s opening drive of the game.
The Cyclones were on offense when the game was stopped for the first time, but the delay had no effect as they would go on to score the game’s first touchdown in spectacular fashion.
It came on a 51-yard pass from receiver Deshaunte Jones to receiver LaMichael Pettway with 5:44 left in the first quarter.
The Iowa secondary initially thought that Jones was running a reverse and then Pettway slipped past Iowa cornerback D.J. Johnson and was wide open when Jones hit him stride.
Fans had just settled back in their seats when Mother Nature struck again with a second lightning delay that came with 13:24 left in the second quarter.
Iowa had just punted to the Cyclones when the second delay was called.