Aug 31, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey will celebrate more birthdays, he just wasn't in the mood to blow out 21 candles this Aug. 31.
Likewise, the Hawkeye football team will celebrate more victories, but not on this season-opening Saturday.
That's life, that's football. You work hard for nine months while no one is looking and you want it to pay off with a big win when 67,000 fans are in Kinnick Stadium.
If Kirksey doesn't want to revel in his birthday performance, Hawkeye fans should. His game-high 14 tackles is reason enough for applause, but the highlight was an impressive scoring play at the end of the first quarter. Iowa trailed 10-0, and Northern Illinois had visions of a three-possession lead.
On second-and-6 from Iowa's 49, Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch completed a pass to tight end Luke Eakes. Kirksey clobbered Eakes, forcing a fumble. But the momentum-changing play didn't end there. Kirksey scooped the ball and ran 52 yards for a touchdown - the first of 17 consecutive points for the Hawkeyes.
"It was one of those weird plays where the ball falls into your hands after you make a tackle. I saw him coming across and tried to make a play. I saw the ball come out and rumbling around, so I picked it up. As soon as you see the ball, you try to make a play on it and hopefully you get a touchdown."
UI senior linebacker
The impact of Kirksey's play was evident on both sides of the ball during the next two drives. While the Huskies ran six plays for minus-2 yards, Iowa ran 17 plays for 120 yards and scored 10 more points.
But Kirksey's quote has a snag: "Unfortunately we had a loss so the play doesn't mean anything because we didn't win."
Northern Illinois benefitted from a take-away of its own with 84 seconds remaining and converted a 36-yard field goal with four seconds left to defeat the Hawkeyes, 30-27. It is Iowa's first season-opening loss since falling to Kansas State, 27-7, in the Eddie Robinson Classic in 2000.
"If we would have won the game, it would have been great," UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We lost, so it's not so good. But our guys competed, we just didn't compete well enough and (Northern Illinois) did."
A question now will be if a three-point loss to the Huskies in 2013 can in some way be more beneficial than a one-point win against them in 2012. After the 18-17 Iowa decision in Soldier Field, Northern Illinois answered with 12 consecutive regular-season wins. That will be a goal for the Hawkeyes, who went 3-8 after the Windy City win.
"It's frustrating because we just got out of camp and we worked so hard, and to see an outcome like this is frustrating," Kirksey said. "Especially not having a win in a long time. We fought hard out there and it came down to the last minute and we didn't finish. It's frustrating to see how hard you work and it doesn't show a win, but we'll put it behind us and start working (toward Missouri State) because we have plenty of games to come."
Missouri State comes to Iowa City on Sept. 7 as the Hawkeyes look to end a seven-game slide. When the clock expires on that day, maybe then Kirksey will enjoy the belated celebration he deserves.