MINNEAPOLIS — The fate of Iowa soccer was in its own hands as it faced Minnesota on Saturday. The Hawkeyes needed a loss in Illinois to find a straight path into the Big Ten championship game, and Michigan delivered by scoring a last-second field goal to edge the Illinois 19-17.
The fight for the Floyd of Rosedale went as expected. Two bitter cold-weather rivals fought to the end in a physical battle dominated by running play. But in the final seconds, Iowa made just enough games for its eighth straight win of the series and stole away from the Hawkeyes a win of back-to-back Big Ten West titles. Iowa defeated Minnesota 13-10 and will play for a chance to return to Indianapolis next Friday afternoon.
Early on, it looked like Iowa would run away with the competition. The first offensive play was one of the longest of the season: a 58-yard screenplay against tight end Sam LaPorta that immediately put the offense in the red zone. The Hawkeyes had to settle for one field goal, but points on first possession were a positive sign. On their next drive, the Hawkeyes streaked 66 yards in 12 games for the game’s first touchdown to extend their lead to 10-0 midway through the first quarter.
Tight end play was big for Iowa early on, LaPorta and sophomore Luke Lachey were common targets and were the most effective mode of moving the ball. However, on a critical fourth down conversion that led to Iowa’s touchdown, LaPorta was injured at the game and did not return. Without him, Iowa’s offense lost momentum.
LaPorta recorded four catches for 95 yards in just two action drives. After his departure, Iowa only had 186 yards for the remainder of the game. Against the nation’s top third-down defense, Iowa converted just 3 of 11 third-downs (27%) and failed to regain early momentum of the game.
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There were ways to take the lead. Midway through the third quarter, the Iowa offense made it to the Minnesota 26-yard line, but a series of negative plays pushed Iowa out of field goal range. On the next possession from their own 41-yard line, Spencer Petras and Nico Ragaini couldn’t determine what the Hawkeyes would have set up in the Minnesota red zone, and the drive resulted in a punt.
Saturday’s biggest game-changer was offense, but on Minnesota’s side: running back Mo Ibrahim. Early in the game, the biggest question was how Iowa would fare against another elite running back. In his last game at Huntington Bank Stadium, the senior set a stadium record for 263 rushing yards and advanced on the Gophers’ offense, which was led by redshirt quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis.
The Iowa defense has been a proponent of not giving up on explosive plays, handing Ibrahim four rushes of more than 15 yards. Between the big games, Ibrahim’s 6.7 yards per rush was more than enough to keep the Gophers viable throughout the game. It’s not often that the Iowa defense doesn’t win the physical matchup, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. Two massive forced turnovers later tipped the game in the Hawkeyes’ favor.
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With 1:59 in the game, Minnesota’s offense went on a 16-play, 88-yard drive that expended 8:52 of game clock but resulted in zero points after linebacker Jack Campbell and safety Quinn Schulte combined for a forced fumble Ibrahim inside the Iowa 10-yard line. However, Iowa’s offense went three and out, returning the ball to Minnesota with favorable field position in less than a minute. With the ball on Iowa’s 33-yard line, Campbell, the heart and soul of Iowa’s defense, came up with the game-changing interception and returned it to Minnesota’s side of the field. Eventually, the offense broke through with the decisive result, a 5-play drive for 42 yards topped by a small Drew Stevens game-winner.
About a month ago, Iowa’s program was at a crossroads after three straight losses. Now, one of the more unlikely reversals in Kirk Ferentz’s tenure could result in another division title. Iowa will play rival Nebraska for two trophies on Black Friday.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa’s Victory Over Minnesota Clears Path for Big Ten West Replay