Northwestern dashes Hawkeyes hopes-again.

Evanston, Ill.There should be no more talk of Iowa’s football team making a repeat appearance in the Bowl Championship Series.

For all practical purposes, those lofty dreams faded Saturday when Northwestern delivered a 21-17 reality check.

“We can still play for a lot of things,” offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. “Pride, first of all. No matter what your record is, you’ve got enough pride as a Hawkeye that you’re going to play your heart out.”

The Wildcats (7-3, 3-3) rallied with touchdown drives of 85 and 91 yards, but Hawkeye quarterback Ricky Stanzi took the blame for a turnover that ignited the comeback.

“We lost because I threw a stupid interception and it just switches the momentum,” said Stanzi, who 23-of-41 passing for 270 yards. “It cost us the game.”

Iowa was ahead 17-7 when Stanzi attempted a throw into double coverage near Northwestern’s 5-yard line, with10:56 remaining.

Brian Peters picked off the ball, preventing the Hawkeyes from reaching the end zone.

Making matters worse for the 18,000 Iowa fans at Ryan Field, receiver Marvin McNutt appeared to have eluded coverage on the play.

“I lost the guy I was supposed to read,” Stanzi said. “I couldn’t see him in the shuffle of things and Marvin was running wide open.

“I thought a guy would have jumped down on him, and it didn’t work out that way.” That’s when Wildcats quarterback Dan Persa seized the moment.

He trimmed the Hawkeyes’ margin to 17-14 with a 6-yard touchdown toss to Jeremy Ebert.

Iowa managed just one first down on the ensuing series, giving Northwestern the ball back with 4:08 left.

“We’ve been in that situation before, where we needed to come out and make plays,” McNutt said. “We just didn’t come out and do it.”

Persa converted a key 3rd-and-4 situation with a 22-yard scramble, and picked up another first down on a 4-yard run.His final throw was a 20-yard scoring strike to Demetrius Fields, with 1:22 remaining.

“When it’s a one-score game, we feel like we’re going to win,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “These guys are saying ‘Cat-time.’ It’s just an attitude about our program.”

It was later reported that Persa ruptured an Achilles’ tendon on his last throw, and surgery was scheduled for Saturday night.

He finished 32-of-43 passing for 318 yards.

“Dan Persa played out of his mind,” Stanzi said. “He did an unbelievable job.”

The Hawkeyes’ final drive led to more frustrations.

They held the ball for 15 plays, but could no get closer than the Wildcats’ 45-yard line.

Stanzi launched the ball into the end zone on 4th-and-16. It was tipped by Derrell Johnson- Koulianos and sailed just beyond the reach of Iowa teammate Keenan Davis’ reach.

“It’s a tough loss for us,” Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ll go to work and see what we can do about bouncing back.”

The Wildcats have now won five of the past six meetings — handing Iowa more defeats than any other conference rival since 2005.

A year ago, Northwestern gave the Hawkeyes their first loss of the season, but tailback Adam Robinson and his teammates rebounded to finish 11-2 and beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

This year’s postseason destination will not be part of the BCS showcase.

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