With under five minutes left to play against Illinois, Iowa trailed 13-9. A field goal wasn’t going to cut it for the Hawkeyes, and they hadn’t scored a touchdown since the second quarter.
But when they needed to, they got it. It started with a 17-yard Kaden Wetjen punt return to the Illinois 46. From there, the Hawkeyes moved the ball down to the Illinois 30 — where running back Kaleb Johnson made a house call to give Iowa a 15-13 lead.
The Hawkeyes finished the job, and got it done when it mattered most.
“That’s been kind of in the story of our season,” quarterback Deacon Hill said. “Like, just keep pushing forward, each and every play each and every day. We knew at some point one was going to break and we just couldn’t let up couldn’t take your foot off the gas, you know, no matter what the outcome of that drive was.”
The two critical plays leading up to the crescendo touchdown were Wetjen’s punt return, and a 3rd and 5 conversion on a slant pattern to wide receiver Nico Ragaini.
“I told [Kaden] personally … without that we don’t score,” Kaleb Brown said. “I feel like that was a spark, you know, and Nico on his quick slant route. Without those two plays we wouldn’t be where we are.”
“It means so much to me and especially the seniors,” Kaleb Johnson said of his touchdown. “This was their last time out here, so for me to do that for them is just my gift for them.”
“Just watching Kaleb Johnson — he hasn’t played a lot the last couple of weeks,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s huge, not not only for our team, but it’s a good moment for him, too, and hopefully it taught him a lesson about just keep working.”
The victory crowns Iowa the undisputed Big Ten West champions, and they’ll be playing for a Big Ten championship title in Indianapolis on December 2.