CHICAGO - Damon Bullock saw the opening and didn't stop until he was in the end zone.
Finally, Iowa had a touchdown. And it came just in time.
Bullock ran for 150 yards and scored on a late 23-yard run to lead Iowa to an 18-17 victory over Northern Illinois in the season opener on Saturday at Soldier Field.
The Hawkeyes simply got all they could handle from the reigning Mid-American Conference champions but came out on top after trailing most of the way.
"It's a huge confidence booster for our team," James Vandenberg said.
The Hawkeyes were down 17-12 when Bullock ran untouched around the left end to put them ahead by one. That happened after Iowa's Greg Castillo downed a punt at the NIU 1-yard line.
Rather than take a safety after failing to get a first down, the Huskies punted. Iowa took over on the NIU 24 and Bullock ran it in on third-and-9. The 2-point conversation failed, but the defense held its ground, giving Iowa a tense victory.
Bullock came up big, carrying 30 times with the Hawkeyes' running back rotation depleted and Vandenberg taking a beating at quarterback. He was sacked six times and threw for 129 yards, and the offense stalled several times when it had shots at the end zone. Mike Meyer kicked four field goals to keep Iowa close.
With each failure, the Hawkeyes' frustration grew. But they came out on top thanks to that big run by Bullock. The Hawkeyes had used that play several times and Vandenberg thought they had come to some big gains.
This time, it happened.
"I told Coach (Kirk Ferentz) afterward that it was a brilliant call," Bullock said.
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren agreed and even acknowledged his players might have been caught off guard. But the sequence that led up to that was just as crucial.
Castillo had no doubt he had pinned the Huskies at the goal line because the ball wasn't in the end zone even though his body was. So rather than a touchback, they started at the 1.
Then, there was the decision to punt rather than take the safety.
"One of the coaches asked me that," Doeren said. "I don't know how that would have helped us or not helped us. I hate giving points up in a situation like that. ... Possibly, we could have done that. It's tough when you're in that situation to put points on the board."
For most of the game, the Huskies were in good shape.
Jordan Lynch threw for just 54 yards in his first start as Northern Illinois' quarterback but ran for 119. That included a 73-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter to give the Huskies a 17-9 lead, after his fumble on the first drive of the half led to a field goal for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes pounded the ball even though five players expected to compete for carries were not on the field. And they came up short a few too many times when they had shots at the end zone.
Take this sequence early in the second half.
Trailing by four, Iowa took over on the NIU 14 after Joe Gaglione stripped Lynch of the ball on the first drive of the half. But instead of a touchdown to take the lead, the Hawkeyes settled for Meyer's 22-yard field goal after they converted a fourth down at the 5 and stalled at the 3.
Worse for Iowa, Aidan Conlon sprung Lynch with a block on the next possession for a 73-yard touchdown run up the right side that bumped Northern Illinois' lead to 17-9. Another threat early in the fourth quarter ended with a field goal for Iowa - a 50-yarder by Meyer after Vandenberg got sacked for 10 yards by Sean Evans with the ball on the 26.
"There were things that were disappointing at times, and those are things that are correctable with time, hopefully," Ferentz said. "But obviously there were a lot of good things that took place out there."