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Heartland heroes: No shortage of key plays in 1-point win

ON WISCONSIN <b>Niles Brinkley was in on the tackle that helped ice the Badgers' second-straight win over a top-15 foe</b>
Niles Brinkley was in on the tackle that helped ice the Badgers' second-straight win over a top-15 foe

Oct. 23, 2010

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A frantic and fantastic fourth quarter will always define it, but it was a play in the first period that decided Wisconsin 31, Iowa 30.

The 2010 renewal of the battle for the Heartland Trophy – the last for at least three years – will go down as one of the great comeback wins in Badgers history.  And one of the greatest games of the history of the Wisconsin-Iowa rivalry, which now gets put on the shelf tied at 42-42-2.

Fans in Madison and Iowa City alike will always remember watching the game’s frenetic final possessions. But the blocked extra-point attempt that allowed the Badgers to emerge with a one-point win? Chances are many were on the way to the fridge.

Michael Meyers’ point-after attempt was an afterthought to Iowa’s emphatic answer to Wisconsin’s game-opening field goal.  Except to the coaches and players on the field, that is. Proving he continues to never take a play off, J.J. Watt broke through the Hawkeyes’ protection and put his big mitts on Meyer’s attempt to keep the score at 6-3.

“That was huge for us,” Watt said. “I have to give credit to Patrick Butrym for getting push up the middle and allowing me to slip inside and get the blocked kick.

“That was the difference in the game.  You really don’t think about it in the first quarter when you make that play, but it just goes to show that, when you play every single play, it will reward you in the end.”

 Instant Impressions
What sealed the deal?
Niles Brinkley and Mike Taylor combining to bring down Iowa RB Adam Robinson short of the sideline to run out the clock.
Who gets the game ball?
Brad Nortman, whose 17-yard run on a fake punt in the fourth quarter kept alive the scoring drive that allowed UW to go up 31-30.
What stands out?
• After a 13-10 halftime score, the teams combined for five touchdowns and a field goal on their last eight drives.

It was the first of myriad moments that swung the game’s momentum as back-and-forth as the teams’ all-time series. The Badgers and Hawkeyes swapped the lead eight times, and it all led to a rollercoaster ride in the fourth quarter.

Iowa had the game’s first true big play late in the third quarter, with Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi hitting wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on a 45-yard touchdown pass that made it 20-17.

After the teams had ground it out in the trenches for much of the first half, the air raid came off as a defiant “What you got?” to the Badgers.

The answer came quickly, with Wisconsin covering 51 yards in just four plays on the way to a 2-yard TD run by John Clay -- his second of the day – and a 24-20 lead. That included an outstanding hook-up through the air between Tolzien and receiver Isaac Anderson to set up the scoring run.

All Iowa did was march 80 yards on its ensuing possession, using 13 plays and 5:45 worth of clock to jump back ahead at 27-24 on a 6-yard connection from Stanzi to Marvin McNutt.

Then the Badgers blinked. Tolzien threw an uncharacteristic interception on a pass into traffic.

But that wasn’t the turning point the Hawkeyes had hoped for. That came when the Badgers’ defense held strong with Iowa staring down a short field, as it took the ball at the UW 26 on the turnover.

Wisconsin yielded just three yards in four plays and the Hawkeyes were held to a field goal, a stand that kept the Badgers within a score with 8:35 to play.

That’s when Tolzien took command of a UW offense that would not be denied on its way to the end zone. The Badgers strung together a 15-play drive for the second time on the day, battling their way 80 yards in 7:29.

It began with back-to-back runs by Clay and a pass from Tolzien to Anderson that left the Badgers facing a fourth-and-4 at their own 26.

Enter unlikely hero Brad Nortman. The punter.

Nortman took the snap, sold the kick and, for the first time in his career, took off down field. With a blocker out front, he carried the ball 17 yards before sliding to a stop and giving the Badgers new life.

“I feel like ball security isn’t my biggest strength, and coach even said, ‘If you get in the open field, slide,’” Nortman said. “I said ‘No coach, I’m going to score,’ but, naturally, when I actually got in there I slid.

“Our guys sold it perfectly and it all worked out.”

They made the most of that new life by putting Tolzien back in the shotgun and calling pass on five consecutive plays. On third-and-5, he hit Jacob Pedersen for 12 yards. Four plays later, on fourth-and-4, he found Montee Ball for a 7-yard gain to keep the march moving.

“This is why in camp you do all those two-minute situations,” said Tolzien, who finished the day 20-for-26 for 205 yards. “You know at some point you’re going to get in these situations and you want to be able to capitalize.”

Ball, who stepped up for injured teammate James White, also stopped the drive by reaching across the goal line on an 8-yard touchdown run that stood up to a replay review and put the Badgers back out front with 1:06 to play.

“We sweat, we bleed together, and I’m not going to let this team down,” Ball said. “We knew it was going to be rough here, but we kept our heads up and kept fighting.”

That left things in the hands of the defense, which had been put on its heels as the Hawkeyes drove to scores on three-consecutive possessions in the second half.

The Badgers were up to the challenge.    

Stanzi picked up consecutive first downs through the air and had the Hawkeyes at midfield when the Badgers finally got the pressure on the quarterback they’d been looking for.

Watt – who else – broke into the backfield and slipped to the turf as he pursued Stanzi, who was rolling to his right, but still managed to grab enough of the quarterback’s ankle to bring him down for an 11-yard loss with 26 seconds to play.

“Our defense stepped up when we needed to,” Watt said. “We gave up too many points but, when the game was on the line, we did what we needed to do.”

For the second time, Watt had literally left his fingerprints on the outcome of the game.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” he said.

Still, the Hawkeyes weren’t finished. Three plays later, with 12 seconds left, Stanzi hit Adam Robinson out of the backfield. He only made it 4 yards before Niles Brinkley and Mike Taylor brought him to the turf, short of the sideline.

“It was a back-and-forth showdown and we were fighting every down,” Brinkley said. “It was a grudge match and we had to use what the coaches taught us all week to come out on top.”

Brian Mason
UW Athletic Communications

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