Orange Bowl caps storybook season


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It was the appropriate ending for what was a magical 2009 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

After being invited to play in the FedEx Orange Bowl on Jan. 5, the Hawkeyes made the most of their invitation to Miami, defeating ACC champion Georgia Tech, 24-14. Iowa’s 11-2 record tied with that of the 2002 season for the best in Hawkeye history.

The Hawkeyes also won a major bowl for the first time since claiming the 1959 Rose Bowl over California.

During the season, Iowa thrived in the second half. But against the Yellow Jackets, the Hawkeyes set the tone first.

On Iowa’s second offensive series, the Hawkeyes marched down the field for a score when junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi found sophomore wide receiver Marvin McNutt for a 4-yard touchdown pass. The key play was Stanzi hitting senior tight end Tony Moeaki for a 54-yard completion that took the Hawkeyes to the Georgia Tech 9-yard line.

Iowa scored again after a Yellow Jacket 3-and-out, when Stanzi found junior wideout Colin Sandeman for a 21-yard strike. At that point, the Hawkeyes led 14-0.

“We knew they were going have to have long drives to score,” Moeaki said. “We wanted to start fast, and that’s what we did.”

While the offense put up points, the Hawkeye defense put on a clinic. Coming into the Orange Bowl, Georgia Tech had not punted in its previous two contests, against Georgia and in the ACC championship against Clemson.

Iowa forced the Yellow Jackets to punt on each of their first six possessions, and their lone score in the first half came from the defense.

Members of the Hawkeye defense credited their dominance, especially during the early part of the contest, to the scheme drawn up by defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

“They got us in a defense that worked,” Iowa senior linebacker A.J. Edds said. “It’s not what we do on a weekly basis. We kind of put it together ad hoc throughout the course of December, tweaking it, adjusting it, a lot of film watching trying to see what worked.

“We just had to be flexible, and it worked out.”

The Hawkeyes may have never trailed, but like the majority of the 2009 season, they left hearts racing among the Iowa faithful.

Late in the fourth quarter, Iowa led 17-14; the Hawkeyes cemented the victory when running back Brandon Wegher scampered into the end zone from 32 yards out to regain a double-digit lead.

In a span of four months, the Hawkeyes went from a team dodging bullets against a Football Championship Subdivision school in the season-opener to a team standing on a podium receiving a Bowl Championship Series bowl game trophy.

“I think it’s a real credit to our players,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They just stay the course out there on the field. They don’t get too high, too low. No matter what happens, they keep playing.

“I tell you, they’re a mentally tough group, and that’s what it takes to finish games.”

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