The Nebraska football team led No. 17 Iowa by 12 in the fourth quarter Friday at Memorial Stadium, but the Hawkeyes scored 19 unanswered points in the final quarter to rally for a 28-21 win in the annual Heroes Game between the border rivals.
The game turned when Iowa, trailing 21-9, blocked a Husker punt and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown just 44 seconds into the final quarter. A Hawkeye safety four minutes later made it a three-point game and on the ensuing drive, Iowa tied the score at 21-21 on Caleb Shudak’s fourth field goal of the game. Iowa then took its first lead of the game when Spencer Petras capped a six-play, 76-yard with a two-yard touchdown run with 2:58 remaining. Nebraska, led by freshman Logan Smothers in his first career start, drove inside the Hawkeye 30-yard before Jermari Harris denied the Huskers’ comeback attempt a diving interception at the 2-yard line with 43 seconds to play.
With the loss, Nebraska ended its season with a 3-9 record, with eight of the nine losses by a touchdown or less. Iowa improved to 10-2 with the win. The Hawkeyes rally came after Nebraska led by as many as 15 and never trailed until the final three minutes. Smothers completed 16-of-22 passes for 198 yards, and he also led the Huskers on the ground with 24 carries for 64 yards. Smothers ran for a pair of touchdowns while running back Jaquez Yant – also making his first career start – had 44 yards on 13 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown.
Samori Toure led the Husker receiving corps with six catches for 67 yards to finish sixth on Nebraska’s single-season receiving yards list. Austin Allen had two catches for 55 yards, ending his final season in the Scarlet and Cream with Nebraska tight end records for most catches (38) and receiving yards (202) in a season. Omar Manning added a career-long 40-yard catch to set up a Husker touchdown.
Things started well for Nebraska, which controlled the game for the first three quarters. The Huskers took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, going 75 yards on 12 plays, as Smothers scored from two yards out just 5:42 into the contest. The freshman accounted for 67 of the Huskers’ 75 yards, completing a pair of passes to Toure, while also carrying five times for 20 yards.
Iowa came right back on its opening drive, but the Blackshirts got the defensive play they needed to prevent the Hawkeyes from getting on the scoreboard. Iowa drove down the field and had 1st-and-goal at the Nebraska nine after a 10-yard pass from Alex Padilla to Charlie Jones. After a penalty pushed it back to the Iowa 13, Tyler Goodson’s 12-yard run made it fourth and goal at the Husker 1-yard line. On 4th-and-goal, Padilla found LaPorta in the endzone, but Reimer knocked the ball away before he completed the catch. The call was originally ruled a touchdown, but the call was overturned and the Huskers took possession.
Iowa got on the scoreboard early in the second quarter on Shudak’s career-long 51-yard field goal to cut the Husker advantage to 7-3 with 10:39 left in the first half.
The Huskers answered the Iowa field goal with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive, capped by Yant’s 1-yard touchdown leap into the endzone. NU kept the drive moving early, as Smothers found Travis Vokolek for a 6-yard pass on 4th-and-1 from its own territory. Five plays later, Smothers went 24 yards on a quarterback keeper to get the ball to the Iowa 5-yard line to set up the score.
The Hawkeyes pulled to within 14-6 with 39 seconds left in the half on a 48-yard field goal from Shudak after going 45 yards in eight plays. A costly personal foul on Nebraska put the Hawkeyes in Husker field but the Blackshirts held, as Casey Rogers and Ben Stille combined on a sack on third down to thwart the drive.
Iowa was threatening on its first drive of the second half and drove deep into Husker territory before the Blackshirts came up with a huge defensive stop. Reimer forced a Tyler Goodson fumble and Deontre Thomas recovered at the Nebraska 6-yard line.
The Huskers capitalized on the Hawkeye turnover, going on a season-long drive that covered 94 yards on nine plays to extend the lead to 21-6 with 5:54 left in the third quarter. Smothers drove NU through the air, hitting Allen with a 27-yard pass to get the ball close to midfield before finding Manning on a 40-yard catch and run to the Iowa 2-yard line. Smothers would call his own number two plays late for his second score of the day.
Iowa threatened again on its next drive, getting into the Husker Red Zone, but once again were forced settle for another Shudak field goal, this time from 36 yards, to get within 21-9 with 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Hawkeyes got the break they needed early in the fourth quarter, as Henry Marchese blocked William Przystup’s punt, and Kyler Fisher recovered and went 14 yards for a touchdown, cutting Nebraska’s lead to 21-16 with 14:16.
After the block punt, Nebraska lost a fumble on its next possession and although Iowa could not capitalize with points off the turnover, the Hawkeyes pinned the Huskers at the 7-yard line with a punt. Two plays later, Smothers was called for intentional grounding in the end zone resulting in a safety. After the ensuing kickoff, Nebraska allowed Iowa to go only 36 yards but that was enough to get in position for a 44-yard field goal from Shudak.
Following a Nebraska 3-and-out, Iowa went 76 yards in six plays for the game-winning touchdown. Tyler Goodson had the key play of the drive with a 55-yard run that took the ball all the way down the Nebraska 14-yard line. Five plays later, Petras took it in from two yards out for the go-ahead touchdown.
Nebraska picked up three first downs on its final drive and marched to the Iowa 29 before Smothers’ pass was picked off to secure the Hawkeye win.