Saturday, January 01, 2005

Tate's Hail Mary Pass Keeps the Iowa Miracle Alive

The Drew Tate story keeps getting bigger and bigger.

University of Iowa football with Kirk Ferentz at the controls keeps getting bigger and bigger.

When does it end? Well, I’ll tell you this. Thirty-thousand Hawkeye fans at the Capital One Bowl game today and many more thousands watching on TV and listening on the radio hope it lasts forever.

When sophomore quarterback Tate fired a 56-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Warren Holloway as the final precious seconds ticked off the clock, he might have put himself in position to be elected Iowa’s governor.

The touchdown pass was the first of Holloway's collegiate career. And the guy is a fifth-year senior!

"It really hasn't hit me yet," Holloway said in the postgame interviews. "Maybe in a month or so."

For a second or two after the play began, Tate was worried.

"I thought I overthrew him," he said. "Once Warren caught it, he wasn't going down."

It was a miraculous finish to a miraculous 30-25 victory over LSU and a miraculous 2004 season that spilled over to the first day of 2005.

When Rob Brooks, sideline reporter on the Iowa radio network, rushed up to Holloway after the game, the 5-10, 188-pound senior wide receiver from Homewood, Ill., said the winning play was called the “all-alert.”

Holloway, who caught 28 passes all season and three in this game [but only four in his first three seasons as a Hawkeye], was alert enough to be on the receiving end of Tate’s 20th completion in 32 attempts as Iowa wound up a 10-2 season and made sure it will be ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams in the final polls.

And you know what else?

The Hawkeyes will be favorites to win the 2005 Big Ten Conference championship and will be ranked in everybody’s top 10 [can top five be asking too much?] next August. What’s more, Tate will get plenty of mention as the first-team all-Big Ten quarterback and a Heisman Trophy candidate.

Back to the final play for a minute. Let’s face it, Iowa’s offense seemed just as disorganized as LSU’s defense when it began.

Oh, sure, Tate and Holloway will no doubt tell their grandchildren that the winning play was designed under calm, cool conditions, but actually it was pulled off in the craziest kind of atmosphere anyone could imagine.

But somehow, Tate – who often seems to have eyes on both sides and the back of his head as well as the front – saw Holloway streaking downfield.

Holloway caught the ball at the 10-yard line and darted into the end zone as time evaporated.

“We’ve found different ways to win,” Ferentz told the ABC-TV audience afterward. “Different guys have stepped in to help us out. How fitting for a guy like Warren Holloway to do that at the end of the game.

"I don't know if you could write a better script. Nobody would believe it if you did."

Iowa could settle for nothing less than Holloway’s dash to the end zone. Obviously, there would’ve been no time remaining for a possible game-winning field goal by Kyle Schlicher.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have great hearts,” Ferentz said in his postgame radio comments to Gary Dolphin and Ed Podolak. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more resilient group of athletes in any sport.”

Of Tate, Ferentz said, “He’s a guy who keeps trying to make the play. He’s got some magic to him—there’s no question about that.”

The Tate-to-Holloway scoring pass came with dramatic suddenness after LSU – playing its final game under Nick Saban, who is headed for the Miami Dolphins – took a 25-24 lead with 46 seconds remaining.

Again, Iowa had a running game that was virtually non-existent. That’s nothing new, of course. It’s been that way all season.

The Hawkeyes ranked last in rushing among the nation’s major colleges, and ran for just 58 yards today.

Somehow, some way, Tate, the Hawkeyes and a brilliant defense kept winning all season.

“Kirk Ferentz is the national coach of the year in my opinion,” TV analyst Ed Cunningham said. “What this team went through. His father passed away. The son of [defensive coordinator] Norm Parker passed away, all of the injuries they went through.

“Brian Ferentz, his son, nearly had to have his leg amputated in the off-season [the result of a staph infection]. Three years in a row with 10 wins [11 in 2002]. Unbelievable.”

The TV announcers kept telling the audience about how Norm Parker spent all or some of last night in an Orlando hospital because of problems with his diabetes.

Remember, Parker missed Iowa's first three games this season after having a toe amputated because of circulation problems in a leg.

The Hawkeyes' defense has obviously played much better since his return.

There will those who will say that LSU's players didn't perform as well as they could or should have because Saban was a lame-duck coach. But make no mistake about it, Iowa's defense stuck it to LSU early in the game because it was playing the way Parker's defense usually plays.

On this New Year's Day, the Hawkeyes would not be denied.


The e-mailers were writing to me minutes after the game ended.

From a proud Iowa fan:

"How about those Hawks?

Iowa has made me proud to say I'm a Hawk. There are not enough adjectives to describe the adversity, determination, guts and ability they did today. Go Hawks!!!!"


For a different look at today’s game and Iowa's football future, here’s what Pete Fiutak of wrote:

"There have been some classic bowl finishes over the years, but you'd be hard pressed to find one that ended with such a well-executed final play. This wasn't some wing and a prayer Hail Mary; Drew Tate's last-second 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway was right on the money threading it through the LSU secondary for the score. Considering how limited the Hawkeyes were offensively, to crank out the game it did showed just how much heart and just how good this program is. Kirk Ferentz's team demands to be considered among the elite, and it would've kept that status even if Tate didn't complete what might go down as the greatest throw in the great history of Iowa football.

"How amazing is it that the Nick Saban era ended on a defensive breakdown? His defense did a fantastic job all game long, and then it unbelievably blew the coverage on the play sending Saban off to Miami on the most sour of notes. He's leaving one of the nation's most loaded programs led by a quarterback in JaMarcus Russell who officially arrived as a big-time playmaker. Will Saban be happier dealing with the Dolphin mess? Hopefully, but he's going to have many moments when he'll realize he left a fantastic situation. Worse yet, along with the national title, he'll always be remembered as the defensive whiz of a coach whose team blew it in the 2005 Capital One Bowl.

"No one is going to mention Iowa QB Drew Tate in the 2005 Heisman race, but he'll certainly deserve preseason consideration. Would Matt Leinart or Jason White have carried the 2004 Hawkeyes the way Tate did? Could you imagine how good Tate would've been with Adrian Peterson, LenDale White or Reggie Bush in the backfield? Tate defines the word moxie, always making plays out of impossible situations, and now he'll forever hold a special place in Hawkeye hearts for one big moment capping off one fantastic year.

"So what's next for Iowa? If the Hawkeyes could survive an injury-plagued season at running back and still the offense to work, it should enjoy next season. QB Drew Tate was able to work well considering he didn't have any running game to help him out, and he should put up similar passing numbers with the return of Clinton Solomon and Ed Hinkel to throw to. The line was a bit of an issue for the nation's 117th ranked rushing game, but four starters return and historically, experienced lines under head coach Kirk Ferentz become killers. The linebacking corps will be among the best in America with Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway, but the line will need to patch some gigantic holes with the loss of all four starters including DE Matt Roth and DT Jonathan Babineaux. The secondary could quickly become a strength with corners Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen."

Vol. 4, No. 294
Jan. 1, 2005