LINCOLN, Neb. — Keith Duncan kicked the game-winning 48-yard field goal and then turned and ran to the Nebraska sideline alone.
He wagged his finger and blew some kisses the Huskers’ way. There still was one second left on the clock, so his teammates had to reel him in from whatever planet he rocketed to in the moment.
“Just having some fun,” Duncan said. “Nebraska fans came for some entertainment and that’s what football is. It’s entertainment. Just having some fun with it.”
The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) rode a two-touchdown first-half lead, wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s two TDs (a 45-yard reverse and a 95-yard kick return) and quarterback Nate Stanley’s clutch arm on their final drive to avoid what would’ve been a kidney stone of a collapse in Friday’s 27-24 victory over Nebraska (5-7, 3-6) at Memorial Stadium.
Keith Duncan said after kicking the game-winner: pic.twitter.com/zRpK8CQJZ8
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 29, 2019
It was a 14-3 lead after the first quarter. It was a 24-10 lead at halftime. And then Iowa had three drives for a grand total of 1 yard in the third quarter, while the Huskers put together a pair of scoring drives and tied the game on Wyatt Mazour’s 9-yard run with 32 seconds left in the third quarter.
Oh, it got worse.
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Stanley rolled an ankle in the fourth quarter and spent some time in the medical tent. At this point, the kidney stone collapse is starting to look like a beach ball. And maybe there are two of them.
But Stanley didn’t miss a series and then he didn’t miss a pass. On third-and-10 from Iowa’s 26, Stanley hit Smith-Marsette for a 22-yard gain to Iowa’s 48. Next play, he hit tight end Sam LaPorta for a 22-yard gain to Nebraska’s 30. By the way, those were Iowa’s longest passing plays of the day and they were right on time and kind of out of nowhere.
Iowa had first down on its 26 with 32 seconds left and drove 44 yards in six plays to set up the game-winning field goal. In years past, mainly Ohio State 2009, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has had the offense take a knee and go into overtime. Ferentz went right to the Ohio State 2009 example.
“Probably the biggest difference was a first-year quarterback, first-time starter in 2009,” Ferentz said. “And you have a veteran quarterback. We have evolved a little bit in 10 years. We thought we might have a chance if we executed. There is some risk and reward involved there, but we felt the reward outweighed the risk.”
Stanley put it simply.
“We were going for it,” Stanley said. “That’s been the attitude of the coaches and the team this year, be a little more aggressive. We were trying to go for the win.”
The first half was the Iowa offense you wanted to see ... maybe the one you’ve always wanted to see.
Smith-Marsette’s 45-yard reverse was out of a handoff from running back Tyler Goodson. After a Nebraska field goal, Goodson, who finished with 116 yards on 13 carries, took an inside zone run right down the heart of the Huskers’ defense for a 55-yard TD. Duncan then tied his career long with a 49-yard field goal and a 17-3 lead.
Huskers defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt picked off Stanley and returned it 38 yards for a TD to make it 17-10 and then Smith-Marsette’s 95-yard kick return put the Hawkeyes back up two scores.
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“I guaranteed one in the summertime, so I had to come through,” said Smith-Marsette, who finished with 166 all-purpose yards. “I had to make sure I came through. I made sure I fulfilled that guarantee.”
The Huskers had momentum after the pick-6. Smith-Marsette took it right back.
“That kind of killed our momentum,” Huskers head coach Scott Frost said. “That hurt us.”
Nebraska forced the script it needed in the third quarter. Time of possession started to tilt the Huskers’ way. Nebraska ran 79 plays to Iowa’s 56. The defense did start to slow down.
But with defensive end A.J. Epenesa having the game of a the century, the defense was going to be OK. With the score tied 24-24 for all but one second of the fourth quarter, here’s what Nebraska’s offense produced: Three consecutive three-and-outs and a six-play drive that ended in the punt the Hawkeyes turned into Duncan’s field goal.
“That’s the way of the road,” said Epenesa, who finished with 14 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. “As a defense, it’s on our shoulders. It comes down to if we let them score and win or we stop them and win the game. That’s our mentality.”
From Stanley’s ankle to Epenesa’s performance to Smith-Marsette’s big play to Duncan’s foot, the Hawkeyes needed every body part.
Even Duncan’s lips got into the act. The kiss was in Frost’s general direction.
“I may or may not have,” Duncan said when asked if he did indeed blow a kiss to Frost. “It was more just to everyone, you know.”
That won’t hold up in court, but Ferentz wasn’t mad at his kicker. In fact, he gave him a scholarship in the locker room after the game.
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