Iowa survives an instant classic in Ames

img
Iowa players celebrate with the Cy-Hawk Trophy after Saturday's 44-41 overtime victory in Ames.

By Pat Harty

Seriously?

You want the football rivalry between Iowa and Iowa State to end?

After that masterpiece at a jam-packed Jack Trice Stadium in Ames?

I rejected that long-standing argument before Saturday’s instant overtime classic, but even more so now because this game showed what our two Power 5 teams are capable of doing when each pushes the other to the emotional and physical limit.  

The sellout crowd at Jack Trice Stadium, along with thousands of television viewers, watched a back-and-forth affair that was filled with big plays by big-name players such as Iowa running back Akrum Wadley, whose late touchdown on a screen pass in which he dodged several defenders forced overtime and left you shaking your head in amazement.

Iowa then prevailed 44-41 in overtime as true freshman receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette caught the game-winning touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley.

That was the same Smith-Marsette who had fumbled on his first play as a Hawkeye in last Saturday’s season opener against Wyoming.

The Iowa coaches stuck with Smith-Marsette and the New Jersey native rewarded them for their loyalty and trust.

"It shows that they believe in me," Smith-Marsette said of the Iowa coaches. "Last week, I had a minor setbck, But this week, they showed they believed in me and I took advantage of it."

Smith-Marsette's catch ended one of the greatest games, if not the greatest game, in the history of the rivalry. And that speaks volumes, considering some of the nail biters that have been played between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones.

"Every year there’s a lot of hype, a lot of talk about this game," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, whose record improved to 10-9 against Iowa State. "I think it’s so good for our entire state, there’s no doubt about that.

"Today, certainly, this game lived up to all that hype and it was a heck of a football game. Both teams competed extremely hard, it was hard fought, back and forth obviously. Both teams really left everything they had out there. We’re just really pleased to come out with a win."

It was only six years ago that Iowa State defeated Iowa in triple overtime by the same score of 44-41, and also in Ames.

Both teams also entered Saturday's game with 10 victories in the series since 1998.

Most of the Iowa fans who want this rivalry to go away probably aren’t as adamant right now with Hawkeyes on the winning side of an unforgettable game that included Iowa scoring drives of 94, 91 and 89 yards.

This game was not only a thrill to watch, but Iowa also came away victorious and avoided yet another public relations disaster that always comes with losing to the underdog Cyclones.

And we saw an Iowa quarterback mature right before our eyes, one decision and one throw at a time.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stanley still is very much a work in progress after just two career starts. But here’s statistic for you: Stanley has thrown eight touchdown passes in two games. That matches Chuck Long’s total in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 1982.

Iowa was controlling the line of scrimmage and protecting a 21-10 lead on Saturday when the Cyclones suddenly caught fire, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter to take a 31-21 lead.

But this game was from being over.

Iowa scored 10 unanswered points, including a 23-yard field goal by Miguel Recinos that evened the score at 31-31 with 5 minutes, 16 seconds left to play.

Iowa State then answered with a 74-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jacob Park to Hakeem Butler with 4:36 left to play.

But we saw on Saturday that a seven-point lead isn’t safe with Wadley on the field and with enough time on the clock.

His late touchdown on a screen pass was a clever call by new Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, but Wadley’s immense talent turned the play into something that Iowa fans will cherish forever.

Iowa fans now should hope that Iowa State goes on to have a breakthrough season under second-year head coach Matt Campbell because that would only help Iowa’s cause in the long run.

The Cyclones certainly have some dynamic pieces, led by hard-charging running back David Montgomery and slick receiver Allen Lazard, who had two touchdowns receptions on Saturday.

In fairness to both teams, this was more a case of Iowa making just enough plays to win than Iowa State blowing an opportunity.

The first half was enjoyable to watch. It was highly competitive and had just enough big plays to provide a spark.

But it felt near the end of the second quarter that Iowa finally had started to assert itself on offense.

Stanley and his cohorts marched 91 yards for a touchdown with 52 seconds left in the second quarter, giving Iowa a 14-10 lead at halftime. The drive featured a little bit everything, including a nifty 36-yard run by Wadley and two plays in which Iowa converted on third down.

Iowa State struck first in the game as Lazard scored on a 5-yard pass from Park with 9:03 left in the first quarter. Park basically just lofted the ball in the air and the 6-5, 222-pound Lazard leaped high to catch it over the outstretched arms of Iowa cornerback Manny Rugamba.

Lazard was very emotional after scoring the touchdown. He appeared to be saying “they can’t guard me” to his teammates on the bench in reference to Iowa.

Maybe his offensive coordinator didn’t hear Lazard because he only finished with 23 receiving yards.

Stanley was efficient in the first half, completing 10-of-13 passes for 104 yards and two touchdown. He went into halftime having thrown five touchdown passes in six quarters as a starter.

Iowa continued to assert in the third quarter with a mix of running and throwing that resulted in a 94-yard scoring drive that was capped by Wadley diving into the end zone for a touchdown, making the score 21-10 with 7:21 left in the third quarter.

The Cyclones were clearly in trouble with Iowa now dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides, but they refused to wilt at home as Lazard caught his second touchdown pass with 4:37 left in the quarter, trimming the deficit to 21-17.

At that stage in the game, Lazard had scored 12 points for his team on just 12 receiving yards.

It was now up to the Iowa State defense to make a stand and it did as the momentum continued to shift back to the Cyclones.

The Iowa State offense then struck again as Park completed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Butler on fourth-and-1. Iowa blitzed its linebackers and that left a huge gap in the middle of the field, which the Cyclones exploited.

The clock finally expired with both teams tied at 38 in regulation.

Iowa State went on offense first in overtime and was held to a field goal.

I remember thinking right then that Iowa would prevail because it just didn’t feel like Iowa State’s defense at that time could keep the Hawkeyes out of the end zone.

I picked Iowa State to win by one point for lots of reasons that we saw today, including home-field advantage and some talented players.

But the Hawkeyes stayed the course in a hostile environment and found a way to win the kind of game that it often loses in this rivalry.

This wasn’t just an instant classic. It was a major accomplishment for the Hawkeyes.