A Furious Rally
Sept. 17, 2011
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A 22-yard touchdown pass from quarterback James Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley with 2:51 remaining completed the biggest comeback in school history, as the University of Iowa football team rallied from a 24-3 deficit to down Pittsburgh, 31-27, Saturday afternoon inside Kinnick Stadium.
The 21-point comeback is the largest in the Iowa annals. The previous record was 18 points in a 34-31 victory over Oregon on Oct. 29, 1949, in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes trailed 24-6 with 2:30 left in the third quarter against the Ducks.
The Panthers took possession at their nine yard line, before methodically moving the ball to the 33 on a series of short completions. Junior corner back Micah Hyde, who was playing his first game at the position this season after starting the first two games at safety, sealed the victory with a leaping interception to send the sellout crowd of 70,585 fans into a frenzy.
"I am really pleased with the win, happy for our players," said UI head coach Kirk Ferentz. "We had a lot of play with loose ends and a lot of mishaps that made it tough on ourselves in a lot of different regards.
"The big thing is the guys hung in there and kept fighting. They certainly got it done there the last 20 minutes. For us to do that and pull something off like this, especially when it looked pretty bleak, that will be a good thing for us and help our growth."
The crowd didn't have much to cheer about early in the second half. Following a missed Mike Meyer 50-yard field goal on Iowa's second possession, Pittsburgh used trickery to build a 17-3 lead. The Panthers' Ronald Jones -- a former high school quarterback -- threw a 30-yard dart to Cameron Saddler on a reverse pass.
Following a five-play Iowa possession where Vandenberg was sacked twice for a loss of 15-yards, Pittsburgh struck again, using a five play, 39-yard drive to push its lead to 24-3. Quarterback Tino Sunseri found Drew Carswell for a 4-yard touchdown with 3:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Iowa began its comeback with a five play, 60-yard scoring drive late in the quarter. Vandenberg opened the series with a 22-yard completion to Keenan Davis on a play that was initially ruled incomplete, but was overturned by instant replay.
Vandenberg followed with a 20-yard completion to Martin-Manley to move the ball to the 18 and a 13-yard pass to Davis to the five. Freshman Damon Bullock's first career carry -- a 4-yarder -- advanced the ball to the one before Vandenberg snuck it in to make the score 24-10.
The Iowa defense bent, but didn't break on Pittsburgh's following possession before allowing a 24-yard Kevin Harper field goal. The Panthers started their drive on their drive on their own 32 before an 11-play drive moved them down to the Iowa three, where they had first and goal.
Using a shotgun, spread offense, Vandenberg went to work completing all five attempts. The junior opened the series with a 20-yard completion to Zach Derby to move the ball to midfield. Four completions later, the Keokuk, Iowa, native hit Davis for a 14-yard strike, making the score 27-17.
The Iowa defense had a four-down stop on the following Pittsburgh possession to get the ball back. The Panthers moved the ball to the Iowa 36 behind 20 rushing yards by Ray Graham. Facing a third and three, Sunseri misfired on an attempt to Darius Patton before head coach Todd Graham elected to go for it on fourth down. Sunseri's pass sailed away from Mike Shanahan, giving Iowa possession at the 36.
"I told them we had two downs," said Graham, whose Panthers fall to 2-1 on the year. "I told them we were going to take a shot on that third down. Then we come back on fourth down... should have punted the ball. We're on the road, and I felt like we were struggling to stop them. We needed points, needed to score.
"We felt like we had a play that was definitely there... it was... we overthrew it. In hindsight, it probably wasn't a very good decision."
Vandenberg opened the drive with his sixth straight completion, a 9-yarder to Martin-Manley. The junior also had a 15-yard strike to Davis during the drive before hitting on a 25-yarder to a streaking Martin-Manley to make the score 27-24.
Feeding off the crowd and momentum, the Iowa defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels had a sack for a 6-yard loss on second down to force a third and long. Iowa regained possession following a 39-yard Matt Yoklic punt, giving the Hawkeyes the ball at the 36-yardline with 4:22 to play.
A pair of short Vandenberg completions and a two yard rush up the middle gave Iowa a first and 10 at the 45. A holding penalty on Andrew Taglianetti on third and five kept the chains moving forward, before Vandenberg scrambled 15 yards up the middle to the ball to the 22. On the next play, he found Martin-Manley for the go-ahead touchdown, giving the Hawkeyes the 31-27 lead.
Vandenberg finished 31-of-48 for 399 yards with three touchdowns. The 399 yards are the most by a UI quarterback since 1985, and they tie Chuck Long for the seventh most in a single game in school history. Davis finished with 10 catches for 129 yards and a score; McNutt, Jr., had eight grabs for 112 yards, and Martin-Manley had four receptions for 76 yards with two touchdowns.
Marcus Coker led the Iowa rushing attack with 23 rushes for 86 yards. The junior has accounted for 57 of the team's 58 running back rushing attempts over the past two games. Linebacker James Morris had 13 tackles to pace the team, while Hyde had 10 tackles and two interceptions.
The Panthers notched the game's first touchdown on a blown coverage late in the first quarter. Sunseri opened the drive with a 13-yard completion to Hubie Graham before hitting a streaking Devin Street along the Pittsburgh sideline for a 66-yard score.
After Iowa went three and out following the Panther score, Ray Graham led his team down field for a nine play, 62 yard scoring drive that ended with Kevin Harper's 37-yard field goal. Graham used a spin move to avoid a Christian Kirksey tackle before gaining 24 yards before following with a 9-yard reception to advance to the Iowa 20. On third-and-one, Broderick Binns met Graham in the backfield for a no gain, setting up the field goal.
Iowa's Jordan Bernstein brought the ensuing kickoff 62-yards to the 30-yard line, but the play was negated following an illegal block in the back, bringing the ball back to the Iowa 10. The Hawkeyes followed with a 15-play, 86-yard drive over 7:30 to put their first points on the board.
Pittsburgh threatened on its next possession, moving the ball past midfield on a 23-yard Sunseri scramble to the Iowa 36. Two plays later, Sunseri went for the big play, but his attempt to Mike Shanahan was intercepted at the 2-yard line by Hyde.
On its final possession of the half, Iowa got the ball at its own 49 following a shanked punt by Yoklic. The Hawkeyes moved the ball down to the 20-yard line before Meyer had his 40-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright.
It was all about the defenses in the opening 4:15 to the tune of two sacks, two fumbles and one interception. On Pittsburgh's opening possession, Iowa defensive lineman Dominic Alvis forced a fumble with a sack of Sunseri, and Binns' recovery gave the Hawkeyes the ball at the 26-yardline.
On the second play following the turnover, Panther safety Jarred Holley returned the favor when he dropped underneath in coverage and snared Vandenberg's attempt to Davis before returning the ball 26 yards to the 40-yardline.
Iowa (2-1) returns to action Saturday, hosting Louisiana-Monroe at 11 a.m.