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PENN STATE 21, IOWA 19: A gut-punching loss

It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

This wasn’t the ending I predicted.

On 4th and Goal at the Iowa 7, Trace McSorley found Juwan Johnson at the back of the end zone for his first-career touchdown reception to give the No. 4 Nittany Lions a 21-19 walkoff victory at Kinnick Stadium.

Is there a more devastating way to lose a game?

No, no there’s not.

After last year’s embarrassment in Happy Valley, I didn’t think this game would be even close. But then the Hawkeyes went into half time with a 7-5 lead, despite 54 yards of total offense in the first half.

The scene was set: night game at Kinnick with the black and gold stripes. The Kinnick Wave with the cell phone lights was magical. Our defense, much maligned by people like me for some less-than-stellar performances in the first three games of the season, showed up in a big way, holding an explosive Nittany Lion offense to only 21 total points.

Despite numbers that speak to the contrary, everything seemed to break our way. It was bumpy, but with a minute and a half to play, the upset seemed within reach.

Akrum Wadley, who got destroyed at the line of scrimmage, showed up not once, but twice, to make this a game in the second half thanks to plays like this:

And this, which should have sealed the deal:

This game was just weird. Iowa had a field goal blocked, but blocked one of its own. The referees made calls in our favor. A potential Nate Stanley interception was reversed and gave Iowa life that directly correlated with keeping the game as close as it ended up being.

A lethargic offense managed to score just enough points to take the lead against a Penn State squad that, at that point, had only managed to find pay dirt once. But four seconds left on the clock and 4th down on the dial was enough for the Nittany Lions to earn the win.

But it just wasn’t enough, as badly as I think the defense deserved the win based on their effort alone.

This is heartbreaking. But regardless, there were some positives.

Game ball goes to Phil Parker, Josey Jewell, and the entire defense. They came to play tonight. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. Josey Jewell was lights out. He brought the initial spark to the offense to end the first half, and made big plays all night long.

But how can anyone defend plays like this?

We can talk more about the bad later. The bland play calling. The poor execution on two point conversions that felt right at the time, but look bad on paper now that the ink has dried on the final box score.

But I’m going to focus on the positives instead, because this one is going to hang over our heads for awhile. On paper, Penn State is a vastly superior and more experienced team than the Iowa Hawkeyes. And yet, had one play gone differently, we’d be having a different conversation.

This team has, what kind of seems to me, like a rare resilience. Before this week, they found ways to win games that Iowa teams of old would have lost. This week, they found ways to keep it close against the No. 4 team in the country and a Heisman candidate running back who put up video game numbers for four quarters.

The ending wasn’t what we wanted, but this team defies logic. And that can either spell good or bad for the rest of the season. I’m going to hope it’s good.