By Shawn Gibbs
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - First and goal at the Penn State 3-yard line with a little over 3 minutes to play.
That's how close the Iowa football team was to possibly taking a late lead against the Nittany Lions, but the Hawkeyes failed to capitalize.
Iowa junior quarterback Nate Stanley stood at the precipice of avenging the last second loss to Penn State in Iowa City last season. Remarkably, after three erratic quarters, he was three yards and an extra point from giving his team the lead late in the fourth quarter.
But it didn't happen because Stanley threw an interception that helped to seal Iowa's fate in a 30-24 loss.
Stanley and the Iowa offense was wobbly from the outset. Despite being gifted with two first half Penn State safeties and favorable field position throughout the first two quarters, Iowa’s offense continued to misfire throughout the first half and for the most of the third quarter.
Following a pick six by Iowa sophomore safety Geno Stone, Penn State got a 67-yard kick return from K.J. Hamler and took a 30-24 lead on Iowa native Jake Pinegar’s 44-yard field goal.
Stanley finally seemed to get a rhythm in the fourth quarter, finding junior tight end Noah Fant on three consecutive passes after Fant had gone without a catch for three quarters.
Sophomore running back Mekhi Sargent provided a spark in the running game on the drive with a run of 20 yards and a critical reception down the sideline on 3rdand-10 to put the Hawkeyes on the Penn State 17. A 14-yard pass to Brandon Smith put the Hawkeyes on the Penn State 3-yard line and on the verge of retaking the lead.
However, with the play clock ticking to zero, Stanley received the snap, but his confusion led to a hurried interception by Penn State safety Nick Scott on a pass that was intended for Sargent.
“We have a play and we were audibling, we were in the middle of audibling, we were running out of time on the clock the ball is hiked, Nate tries to make a play throw the ball to Mekhi and their defensive back jumped on the ball,” Fant added. “We were in a totally different play and Nate audibled out of the play and was going with what was the better look, but with time running out on the play clock we got caught in a bad spot and they capitalized on that.”
Stanley gave his version of what happened.
“It was a look that we saw from them and I wanted to change the play; the play clock was just running down and I just tried to rush it too much, should have just taken more time and not try to force it,” Stanley said.
“There was discombobulation," said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. "I was worried us also about us getting the ball snapped, the clock was running down and it looked like he was going to get it off…there was some traffic there that we weren’t anticipating so that was a tough play for sure."
The Hawkeye defense forced Penn State to punt, but with just 1:23 remaining and the drive starting at the Iowa 23, the Hawkeyes only advanced to the Penn State 44 before time expired.
Geno Stone’s Revenge: It was a bittersweet homecoming for Pennsylvania native Geno Stone.
The sophomore safety from New Castle, Pa., took nine unofficial visits to Penn State during the course of his recruitment, but was never offered a scholarship.
Stone’s timely interception on a pass thrown by Trace McSorely, and his subsequent 24-yard return for the touchdown brought the Hawkeyes to within three points in the fourth quarter.
Stone estimated that he had upwards of 80 family and friends who attended Saturday's game at Beaver Stadium.