116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
LINCOLN, Neb. — One team finds ways to win, the other finds way to lose.
Leave the dwelling of how Nebraska could score as many points as their opponents in conference play and still go 1-8 in the Big Ten to Iowa’s western neighbors. All nine of its losses this year, insanely, were by single-digits.
No, let’s focus on as improbable a 10-win team as you’re as likely to see. You wouldn’t call Iowa a marvelous club, yet you can’t help but marvel at how it has kept winning.
Now, the Hawkeyes will finish no worse than in a tie for first place in the Big Ten West with Wisconsin.
“Go Gophers!” more than one Hawkeye said in the team’s postgame interviews. That’s how crazy this year has gotten.
This game certainly was nutty. It seemed to be fluttering out of the Hawkeyes’ reach when it reached the start of fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium. Iowa’s offense was stymied and its defense had allowed a long touchdown drive in each of the first three periods.
Then it was time for the team’s true specialty, special teams. The unglamorous, necessary unit, but the one that tips fields and tips over opponents.
Leading 21-9 in the first minute of the final quarter, Nebraska lined up to punt from its 27. Henry Marchese, a fifth-year Iowa senior, soared unblocked at Husker punter William Przystup and dived at his feet.
Marchese got the ball. It popped up in the air. Kyler Fisher, a walk-on sophomore linebacker from a little Iowa town called Farnhamville, caught it and returned it 14 yards to the end zone.
Iowa was still behind 21-16, but both teams and all 86,541 fans had to know what would follow a sharp turn like that. The Hawkeyes added a safety, a field goal and a touchdown drive. Their special teams, defense and offense all scored in the fourth quarter, and Iowa was a 28-21 winner.
Punter Tory Taylor, kicker Caleb Shudak and kick-returner Charlie Jones have all taken their bows this fall as special teams stars. Here were Marchese and Fisher, faces in the crowd on Iowa’s campus, making a major moment.
Marchese is a scholarship player who never ascended the depth chart. He came to Iowa as a receiver, moved to defensive back, made his bones on special teams.
“Really proud of him and probably a lot of guys I could name like that,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They get the value of how important it is.”
“He embodies a Hawkeye football player,” Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said about Marchese, noting he could have left to find a place where he could play more, but wanted to do no such thing.
Marchese said praise from a teammate like Campbell is “all I really look for. It doesn’t matter about the stats for me or the recognition. All I care about is the respect of my teammates and the respect of my coaches.”
After blocking the kick, Marchese said “I rolled over and saw the ball just skyrocket in the air. and I saw Fish, Kyler Fisher, catch the ball. Great catch. That was a great catch over his shoulder. As soon as he caught it, I just went bananas.”
Marchese is a LeVar Woods guy. Fisher is a Woods guy, from Farnhamville, part of Woods’ recruiting territory in northwest/north central Iowa. Shudak, so great again Friday with four field goals, is a Woods guy. Woods helped bring Taylor to Iowa from Australia.
Woods has done a brilliant job in four years as the special teams coordinator. He had a terrific playing career at Iowa, spent six years on NFL rosters, then joined Iowa’s staff in 2008 as an administrative assistant before working his way up to assistant coach four years later.
He’d be a good head coaching candidate for a lot of programs. He’s great at coaching, great at representing a program in public, and excellent at relating to recruits and the players who end up learning from him.
“He’s worked at it, that’s the first thing I’d say,” Ferentz said. “Twenty-some years ago when he went to the NFL, one thing I told the (NFL) guys was I’m not sure he’s fast enough to make the final cut, but I know this: If he makes a mistake on Monday, he won’t make it Tuesday. He’ll go home and straighten it out, he’ll be back the next day.
“So he carved out a really nice NFL career being mostly a reserve linebacker, but also a key special teams guy,” Ferentz said. “So geneaology-wise, there’s a little bit of that in his blood, maybe.”
Ferentz said Woods the coach “really has jumped in both feet, works extremely hard at it all year-round.”
Woods had the right guys on the field in the punt-return unit, had Nebraska figured out, had Marchese in the right spot to succeed.
“That one, I knew,” Marchese said.
When it happened, Iowa’s players and everyone else knew something. The Hawkeyes would go from that moment to a 10th victory celebration. A Big 10.
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