IOWA CITY — Saturday was a tough night for the Iowa football team.
Sunday wasn’t much better as the Hawkeyes stomached another hard-to-take loss, the third in six Big Ten games and one that in all likelihood ended any opportunity the team had of winning a West Division title in the conference.
All three games were there for the taking. Each one got away.
Iowa led in the final minute of losses to Wisconsin and Purdue, the latter a week after a late-game interception denied the Hawkeyes the chance for a go-ahead score at Penn State.
“Life isn’t always fair, but football is. Like the coaches always say, you get what you deserve,’’ Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said Tuesday. “The ball just didn’t roll our way. We’re three possessions away from something special, but you can’t look back and say that.’’
Instead, the sophomore surmised, “You need to find a way to get it done.’’
That is among the challenges the Hawkeyes face this week, welcoming the end of a string of four road games in five weeks and a return to Kinnick Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. match-up Saturday with current West Division leader Northwestern.
The Wildcats are 5-4 on the season, but have won their last six road games, their last nine games against division opponents and are looking to add to a 12-1 record in their most recent games against any Big Ten opponent.
As awakening as those numbers may be, Iowa players are more concerned with ending their own two-game slide and returning some normalcy to life around the Hawkeye football complex.
“Every loss is tough, but when you’ve lost the way we have the last couple, games that were right there, they hurt a little more,’’ offensive guard Cole Banwart said.
Like other underclassmen on the Iowa roster, the sophomore leans on senior teammates to help move things forward.
“The leadership on this team has been amazing,’’ Banwart said. “The seniors, they’ve got us on the right track to get ready for the three games we have left in the regular season. They’re making the difference.’’
Defensive end Parker Hesse sees that as the responsibility of Iowa’s 13-player senior class.
He said it was difficult to walk off the field at Ross-Ade Stadium as Purdue players celebrated a game-winning field goal with eight seconds left in the Hawkeyes’ 38-36 loss.
Watching tape and making corrections, still upset with letting another game get away, didn’t make Sunday any treat either.
“Anytime you get hit with adversity, have a goal you want to accomplish or something taken away, it hurts. Everyone goes through stuff like that in life,’’ Hesse said.
“The people who become successful in life are the people who get up the next day, reset their mind and say, I’ve still got things to accomplish. That’s what we’ve been doing this week. We’re totally focused on Northwestern.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz senses that, saying leadership among Hawkeye seniors developed between the end of spring practices and the start of fall camp.
"It's emerged and we have a really good group of guys that are committed,'' Ferentz said. "They're showing other guys and telling other guys what we need to be doing.''
Hesse said he likes that Iowa has its NCAA-mandated day off from practice on Thursdays.
He believes that in this instance, that has allowed the Hawkeyes to quickly turn their attention to Northwestern and in any instance push forward, win or lose.
“By Monday, we were watching Northwestern, preparing for them in practice and talking about their personnel,’’ Hesse said.
Also by Monday, Iowa seniors are helping teammates move on.
“It’s not easy, but it’s necessary,’’ Hesse said. “The seniors on this team, we want to make sure that in the next three games, we play as good as we can. All we are guaranteed are three regular-season games together. We want those to be three of the best games we have played together.’’
Sophomore running back Ivory Kelly-Martin has watched seniors push that mantra on the practice field in recent days.
He finds the resiliency he sees in the upperclassmen to be inspiring.
“It was a tough loss. Our fate is no longer under our control, and that’s hard to deal with,’’ Kelly-Martin said. “We’ll see the next few weeks how it plays out, but the seniors, they’re doing what they can to get us back on track.’’