LINCOLN, Neb. — Nico Ragaini’s near-catch triggered the mechanism that delivered Iowa’s victory Friday at Nebraska.
OK, “the mechanism” is Keith Duncan. The junior has made kicking feel like that this season. Duncan has kicked more field goals than anyone in Iowa and Big Ten history. At 29 of 34 this season, including 14 of 18 from 40-plus, Duncan has been a machine.
Machines have on/off buttons. Ragaini’s near catch was the switch.
Yes, “near catch.” This was on first down from Iowa’s 26 with 32 seconds left. It would’ve been a 38-yard gain from Iowa’s 26 to Nebraska’s 36 with 26 seconds left, but was overturned upon review.
When the opportunity for a game-winning field goal is in the air, kickers’ eyes are wide open on the sidelines.
“For Nico’s catch ... I thought it was a catch ... I saw that and I was like, ‘Ope, time to go,’” Duncan said. “I get up. I hit one, Caleb (Shudak) hits one. Then, it’s kind of wait and see. We know if there’s going to be a review, there’s at least a minute of downtime. You go sit on the bench. It’s a heated bench, so it keeps your core body temperature relatively warm. That’s my routine there.”
Duncan was quizzed a lot about his routine after hitting a 48-yard field goal with one second left to push the No. 17 Hawkeyes (9-3, 6-3 Big Ten) past Nebraska, 27-24, Friday at Memorial Stadium. It was Duncan’s second game-winner of the season. He hit a 39-yarder to give Iowa the winning points earlier this season at Iowa State.
How did he deal when the Huskers called two timeouts to try the old “freeze the kicker” thing?
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“I’m so glad they called the timeouts, actually,” Duncan said. “They allowed me to get my mind set. Focus on what I needed to, find my spot in the background, where my spot is to kick. There were really no opportunities to kick in the second half. There were no PATs or field goals. I just had to get back in the rhythm of things, go through my routine again and execute.”
Did you tell your mom and dad that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz officially awarded you a scholarship in the postgame locker room?
“I haven’t, I haven’t been to my phone yet,” Duncan said. “Maybe they’ll find out right now.”
After the second timeout, Duncan kept to himself. Pitchers going for a no-hitter = kickers during a timeout for a game-winning field goal.
“That’s ‘me’ time, that’s for sure, quiet time,” Duncan said. “I told (holder) Colten (Rastetter) that if he said something to me I’m just going to bop him on the head and tell him to get out of here. That’s my time to be in my zone and just another kick.”
Here’s the duality of football: The biggest dudes on the team block for the smallest player (usually, not always but pretty close with Duncan) who needs the intricacies of the long snap and the hold to be perfect.
In addition to 14 tackles, five tackles for loss, two sacks and countless double teams taken on, defensive end A.J. Epenesa is on the field goal unit.
“I watched the whole thing,” Epenesa said. “I hit my guy and you could hear the ball be kicked. Your attention just turns and you can see it flying through the air. When I first saw it, it looked like it was sailing left, but it curved back and went right down the middle and it’s just a great feeling.”
Offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs was samesies.
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“You want to look,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re doing your job and not looking too soon or anything. I did see it go through. I think they had a lot more guys on the other side of the line. No one really came at me, so I peeked up and saw it go through and was pretty excited.”
And so now, what bowl?
During Friday’s Iowa radio pregame, Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said the Holiday Bowl (Dec. 27, San Diego, Calif., 7 p.m. kick) is the most likely destination, but it’s far from a done deal.
He also said a victory over the Huskers might mean more options. One of those would be the Citrus Bowl (Jan. 1, Orlando, Fla., noon kick), which Barta said was in play.
Barta also mentioned the Gator/Music City could swap something, so that’s not totally out for Iowa, either.
For what it’s worth, Duncan is two field goals away from tying the FBS record for field goals in a season (31). Believe it or not, there are some field goal milestones still out there for Duncan.
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