IOWA CITY — Miguel Recinos led a search party for the Heroes Trophy.
He took his 100-plus teammates into the south end zone. Nope, not there. Under the goal posts? Not there, either. Recinos guided the Hawkeyes to their sideline.
They weren’t really looking for the Heroes Trophy. You got that, right?
After missing a field goal halfway through the fourth quarter, Recinos reset, refocused and kicked a 41-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Hawkeyes (8-4, 5-4 Big Ten) over Nebraska (4-8, 3-6) in a 31-28 thriller Friday before 65,299 fans at Kinnick Stadium.
From there, it was all about survival for Recinos. He consulted Keith Duncan, who beat Michigan with a last-second field goal in 2016. Duncan ended up sliding and regretted it. It was “pile on the kicker.”
Recinos is a senior chemistry major. He’s all about learning.
“I started to celebrate, but it did occur to me I’m probably going to want to keep running,” Recinos said. “I remember Keith telling me horror stories about being at the bottom of the pile.”
The Hawkeyes stayed on their feet. Barely. The Huskers played them off their feet for a lot of the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points, generating 158 yards and pulling to a tie on quarterback Adrian Martinez’s 3-yard run with 3:22 left in the game. Martinez scrambled and found wide receiver Kade Warner, Kurt Warner’s son, for the 2-point conversion and a tie game.
It felt like Kirk Ferentz’s face looked during his postgame interview on Fox. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley had his helmet bumped into Ferentz’s lip. He had a bloody mouth and a scratch under his eye.
The Hawkeyes watched the boxing movie “Creed II” after Thanksgiving dinner Thursday night. Coincidence can be coincidental sometimes.
At least no stitches.
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“I’m happy as hell today,” Ferentz said. “It’d be really hard to screw up my day at this point.”
Nebraska tried. It tried in the pregame warmup, infringing into Iowa’s drills causing a bit of a fracas. No flags or weirdness, but there was a ton of back-and-forth.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost clearly wants to set a tone in this rivalry, in which the Hawkeyes have now won four straight and five of the last six.
This is on. Everyone “sports hates” everyone else.
“What disturbed me is right now Iowa is a bigger, stronger football team,” Frost said. “That’s right now. I never thought I’d see that, hear that or say that about a Nebraska football team.”
It’s on. But right here, right now, it was on for the Huskers’ offense. Martinez rolled up 336 yards of total offense (260 passing, 76 rushing yards), his seventh 300-yard effort in total offense this season, a school record.
It was not on for the Huskers’ defense.
The Hawkeyes rushed for a season-high 266 yards, their most since 313 against the Huskers last season. Iowa scored touchdowns on four of its first five drives, including drives of 11, 13 and 15 plays.
That’s the right here, right now.
Still ... and let’s allow Frost to pivot this story ...
“Stopping Iowa on the fake field goal gave us life,” the first-year Nebraska coach said.
He’s absolutely correct.
There were four minutes left in the third quarter and Iowa had a 28-13 lead. Iowa had a drive fizzle at Nebraska’s 2. Recinos lined up for a 21-yard field goal and a three-score lead. Holder Colten Rastetter jumped out of the holder’s position and whipped a quick shovel pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson. The Huskers swarmed and stopped Iowa a yard short.
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Nebraska had life in the form of a first down at its 2. The Huskers certainly made the most of it, launching the fourth quarter of justice on the Hawkeyes that included a fake punt of their own.
“We came in thinking aggressive,” Ferentz said. “ ... Maybe we got greedy, but we were playing to win.”
Nowhere was that more evident than on a fourth-and-8 at Nebraska’s 37 with 42 seconds left.
It looked as if Iowa was playing for overtime. Stanley tried to use a silent count to draw the Huskers offsides. Iowa called timeout and then Stanley, who finished 16 of 27 for 152 yards and a pair of TDs, hit Hockenson for a 10-yard gain. Running back Mekhi Sargent, who finished with 173 yards and a pair of TDs, rushed for 4 yards and then Recinos did his thing.
Most Hawkeyes watched Recinos’ field goal. Some put their faith in the heavens.
“I’m more of a prayer person,” safety Amani Hooker said. “I was praying toward the end. Every game this year has been tight, I’m just sitting with my eyes closed praying.”
The Holiday, Citrus and Outback Bowls were at Kinnick on Friday. That’s California, Florida and Florida.
The wind, rain and cold whipped up in the fourth quarter. The head coach got hit in the mouth with a helmet.
No one was feeling a thing.
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