June 16, 2024

Hawkeyes outlast Huskers to make it six-straight victories in Lincoln

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa kicker Marshall Meeder nails a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against Nebraska Friday November 24, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

LINCOLN, Neb. — The 54th battle between Iowa and Nebraska was everything the fans had expected, which included freezing temperatures, hard tackles and plenty of mistakes from both teams.

Once the smoke finally cleared in the sloppy contest, it was the No. 17 Hawkeyes that came out on top with a 13-10 victory over the Huskers. Not to mention it was Iowa’s sixth-straight win at Memorial Stadium. However, the storyline of Black Friday belonged to an unlikely hero in Hawkeye backup kicker Marshall Meeder, who nailed a 38-yard, walk-off field goal that silenced the Sea of Red.

The matchup was full of momentum swings though, as each squad tried their best to give away the game with turnovers, and special team blunders. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz was proud that his players were able to overcome their mistakes, and never flinched in the face of adversity. He doesn’t take pride in winning ugly, but understands that’s what comes with the territory in the most physical conference in the country.

“Big Ten football, November football, it’s kind of the way it works,” Ferentz said. “The bottom line is football is not a beauty contest, it’s not like gymnastics where you get style points, it’s about finding a way to be successful, finding a way to win football games, and our guys have done a really good job of that.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Iowa (10-2) drew first blood on a seven-play, 51-yard drive that ended with a rushing touchdown by quarterback Deacon Hill. The Hawkeyes left some points off the scoreboard in the first half, and that sort of frustrated Ferentz. Kicker Drew Stevens had two field goals blocked, and wideout Kaleb Brown dropped a wide open touchdown in the endzone.

Stevens struggled throughout the afternoon too, and two of his kickoffs went out of bounds. He was able to nail a 28-yard field goal, that put Iowa up 10-7 at the half. Ferentz made adjustments, and the Hawkeyes were scrappy in the second half, despite a scoreless third quarter. Iowa’s defense put the clamps down on Nebraska, so there wasn’t much offensive fireworks.

However, the real action came in the final minute of the game. It didn’t start out good for the Hawkeyes either, after Hill’s pass was intercepted, which gave the Huskers good field position. Phil Parker’s defense delivered in the clutch on Nebraska’s next possession though. Defensive lineman Ethan Hurkett picked off Chubba Purdy’s pass and returned it to the Huskers’ 37-yard line. The crowd of 86,183 was so quiet after that turnover you could hear crickets in the venue.

Three plays later, with four seconds left on the clock, Ferentz put his trust in Meeder. Although it was Meeder’s first field goal attempt of the season for Iowa, he connected as time expired, and Ferentz was in awe of how he made the biggest play of the game.

“I felt like we had a pretty good backup plan there,” he said. “He (Meeder) doesn’t have the range Drew has, but what you see him do everyday in practice makes you feel confident.”

The Hawkeyes were able to get revenge as the players stormed the field, and hoisted the Heroes Trophy. Nebraska led Iowa in total offense and yards per play, but Iowa had the edge in first downs, plays and time of possession. Hill really struggled with his accuracy, and completed 11 of his 28 passes for 94 yards and an interception.

Running back Leshon Williams finished with a game-high, 111 yards on the ground. It was the third time this season that Williams eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards. His run 22-yard run in final second is what set Iowa up to win the game. Ferentz knew Williams would finally pop one, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

“In my mind the turn of the day was Leshon hitting that last run, it was like 12 or 14 yards, but to me it looked like 70,” the 68-year old coach said. “That was a pivotal play because of the range and the wind, and we knew the run game was going to be like that today, these guys have done a great job.”

Iowa’s defense played lights out the entire afternoon. Hurkett led the Hawkeyes with nine tackles, including one for loss. Linebacker Jay Higgins generated eight stops, and recovered a fumble. Sebastian Castro got in on the action with two tackles for loss and forced a fumble. Nick Jackson even made Purdy eat grass.

The Hawkeyes have now reached double-digit wins for the second time in the past three seasons. Now Iowa will be facing the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan clash in the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium. It’s also going to help that the Hawkeyes will have an extra day to prepare. Ferentz is proud that his players persevered, and found a way to get to the finish line. There’s something about the Hawkeyes and winning those close games, which Ferentz feels will be beneficial down the road.

“These guys just don’t give up, they are resilient and they just keep fighting, and I can’t say enough about them, so it’s been a lot of fun to be with these guys on a daily basis.”