WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Woulda, shoulda, didn’t.
Iowa’s hopes of staying in the thick of the Big Ten West Division title chase took a hit Saturday, knocked back to the pack by the leg of Purdue’s Spencer Evans.
The senior booted a 25-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining that allowed the Boilermakers to win a 38-36 shootout over the 19th-rated Hawkeyes, who saw a comeback from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit at Ross-Ade Stadium go to waste.
"It’s tough to take one like this," free safety Jake Gervase said. "It’s just frustrating, real frustrating."
The frustration took many forms for the Hawkeyes.
From an inability to deal with the pinpoint precision of Purdue quarterback David Blough, to misfiring on a pair of two-point conversion chances to stomaching some late-game officiating calls that irritated coach Kirk Ferentz, Iowa was seemingly battling something nearly every step of the way as it took its second straight Big Ten loss.
The Hawkeyes had positioned themselves to escape with a win, using a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs by Mekhi Sargent on either side of an Amani Hooker interception to erase the 35-23 lead the Boilermakers carried into the fourth quarter.
Sargent’s first score came on a third-down carry with 12 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the game after Purdue stuffed fullback Austin Kelly on a pair of attempts from the 1.
Hooker’s third interception of the season put the ball back in Hawkeye hands 16 seconds later at the Boilermakers’ 26-yard line.
Five plays later, Sargent gave Iowa its first lead of the game at 36-35 on a 1-yard run with 10:19 remaining.
“We did a lot of good things get ourselves back in the game,’’ quarterback Nate Stanley said. “We just didn’t do enough.’’
For the second time in the second half, Ferentz opted to go for a two-point conversion but as was the case in a 28-23 game a little over five minutes into the third quarter, Stanley’s pass intended for Brandon Smith fell incomplete.
While the second try was to give Iowa a three-point margin to protect a field-goal attempt, Ferentz said he opted to go for two in the third quarter simply because the Hawkeyes needed points.
"The more points the better," Ferentz said. "At that point, it felt like this was going to be a game in the 40s. We were down, and we needed points."
The 36-35 lead Iowa held after Stanley’s second two-point try fell incomplete, a play that failed when primary target Noah Fant got tangled up with a Purdue defender, didn’t hold.
But, holding calls on the Hawkeyes’ Keegan Render and Smith stalled a Hawkeye drive after Iowa forced a Purdue punt with 8:00 remaining in the game.
A 31-yard punt by Colten Rastetter put the ball back in Blough’s hands with 4:30 remaining, and the senior knew what to do.
He gained a critical first down on a 7-yard carry on a fourth-and-2 play from the Iowa 30 before the Boilermakers overcame a hold of their own and, ultimately, the ball ended up at the Iowa 16-yard line after Julius Brents was called for pass interference in the end zone.
The late-game situations irritated Hawkeye players and Ferentz, who found it odd that not one holding penalty had been called in the game’s first 55 minutes before Render was flagged.
"All of a sudden, two holding calls right there. It’s just a little frustrating," Ferentz said. "They were tough plays at the end of a game."
Render said simply, "I guess I need to play cleaner and not put myself in that situation."
The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) found themselves in a tough situation in part because of the inability to deny Blough and the Boilermakers' big play offense.
"It’s tough. We handled them up front all day. You’re beating your guy at the line, and then he lobs one over you and there’s nothing you can do about it," Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa said.
Blough connected on 22-of-32 passes for 333 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring passes of 41, 82 and 3 yards to Terry Wright, who grabbed six passes for 146 yards.
"That’s what they do to people," Hooker said.
Wright’s second score came on Purdue’s first snap of the third quarter, extending the Boilermakers 21-17 halftime lead.
"We came into the game know that Purdue had a dangerous, explosive offense and a quarterback who plays under control and makes their team work," Ferentz said. "We got a taste of that."
Purdue (5-4, 4-2) got a taste of what Stanley was capable of as well.
Ignoring a sprained right thumb that was protected by tape, Stanley connected on 21-of-32 passes for 275 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Hockenson that cut into the 28-17 lead the Boilermakers opened on Wright’s 82-yard score.
"We did some things we needed to do to pick up the defense, put some good drives together," Stanley said. "We showed some fight when it would have been easy to lay over, but that’s not us. There’s no quit in this team."