Iowa edges Nebraska 31-28 on Miguel Recinos' 41-yard field goal as time expires

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Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse honored on Senior Day with his parents. Photo by Jeff Yoder

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Miguel Recinos didn’t have to wait long for redemption on Black Friday.

Iowa’s senior kicker from Mason City made a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give his team a 31-28 victory over Nebraska on Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium.

Recinos had missed a 37-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter, and it appeared that the game would go into overtime after Nebraska had scored a touchdown and converted on the two-play with 3 minutes, 22 seconds left to play.

But the Hawkeyes had other plans.

They marched into Nebraska territory and converted a crucial play on 4th-and-8 when Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley completed a 10-yard pass to tight end T.J. Hockenson to keep the drive alive at the Nebraska 27-yard line..

The stage was now set for Recinos to be the hero and he delivered. 

"It's kind of a funny thing; I would never say this to coach (Kirk) Ferentz, but I always seem to do better after I miss one," Recinos said. "And so after I missed that one, that kind of got me in a frame of mind, where it's difficult to describe really, but I've always been like that historically where it just gets easier for me to block it out because I kind of get angry." 

The Iowa players rushed the field after Recinos’ kick had cleared the uprights. Recinos then turned and sprinted towards the south end zone with his teammates chasing after him.

The victory was Iowa’s fourth in a row over Nebraska and it improved Iowa's record to 8-4 in a season in which the Hawkeyes lost three consecutive conference games by a combined 12 points.

The victory also might have secured a spot for Iowa in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on New Year’s Eve.

Nebraska ended its first season under head coach Scott Frost with a 4-8 record, but also won four of its last six games after starting the season 0-6.

Iowa sophomore running back Mekhi Sargent rushed for a career-high 173 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Key West, Fla., native had 31 rushing yards on what proved to be Iowa's game-winning drive.

Sargent also rushed for over 100 yards in last Saturday's 63-0 victory at Illinois.

Iowa hadn't had a 100-yard rusher heading into the Illinios game.

The Hawkeyes were leading Nebraska 28-13 when they tried a fake field goal on 4th-and-2 at the Nebraska 3-yard line with 4:09 left in the third quarter.

Hockenson caught a pass from holder Colten Rastetter, but was stopped one yard short of the first down, giving Nebraska a first down at its own 2.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after the game that he didn't have to be talked into going for the fake field goal or for the key fourth-down pass to Hockenson.

"We came in thinking aggressive," Ferentz said. "Just like that fourth down call, if you see it on film, you think it's there, you see it in practice, it looks good, then you go with it. If it doesn't look good, you don't go with it.

"Maybe we got greedy, but we were playing to win. First half, too, maybe didn't have the opportunity to make that type of decision. They did a good job of defending it. Credit goes to them on that one."

The Cornhuskers lined up to punt after running three plays that had basically gone nowhere. But they ran a fake punt instead and were given a first down after Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker was penalized for unnecessary roughness on the tackle.

The third quarter ended with Iowa leading 28-13, but with Nebraska driving in Iowa territory.

The Cornhuskers converted on 4th-and 2 when quarterback Adrian Martinez connected with Stanley Morgan for 11 yards to the Iowa 28.

Martinez then threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Washington on the next play to cap 98-yard scoring drive on 14 plays. Washington’s touchdown, and the point-after kick, trimmed the deficit to 28-20 with nearly a full quarter still left to play.

Iowa’s next offensive possession went nowhere in three plays and the Cornhuskers took over at their own 37-yard line after a 38-yard punt by Rastetter with 12:57 remaining.

The momentum had clearly shifted to Nebraska’s side at that point, but it quickly flipped back to Iowa’s side when junior cornerback Michael Ojemudia intercepted a Martinez pass and returned it to the Iowa 48 with 9:27 remaining.

Sargent then blasted through a huge hole at right tackle and gained 32 yards to the Nebraska 20.

But the drive stalled at the Nebraska 19 and Miguel Recinos missed a 37-yard field goal with 7:54 remaining, giving Nebraska new life with a first down at its own 20.

Martinez then engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive that he capped by scoring on a three-yard run with 3:22 remaining.

The Cornhuskers then evened the score at 28 when Martinez completed a pass to Kade Warner in the back of the end zone.

Warner, who is the son of former Northern Iowa and NFL quarterback Curt Warner, held on to the pass despite taking a hard hit by Iowa cornerback Matt Hankins.

Iowa still had 3:22 remaining when it took over on offense and then faced a 4th-and-8 when Stanley completed a 10-yard pass to T.J. Hockenson, giving Iowa first down at the Nebraska 23 with three seconds remaining.

That set the stage for Recinos to redeem himself, which he did by making a 41-yard field goal as time expired.

Iowa marched down the field and scored touchdowns on each of its first two possessions of the game, while Nebraska scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game and a made a field goal on its second possession.

The game was showing signs of being an offensive shootout at that stage, but then both defenses started to make some plays in the second quarter.

Nebraska was forced to punt after Iowa defensive ends A.J Epenesa and Anthony Nelson recorded back-to-back sacks near the midway point of the second quarter.

Iowa took over at its own 15 and then marched 85 yards for a touchdown on 15 plays. Mekhi Sargent scored the touchdown on a nifty 15-yard run in which he made several defenders miss with quick cuts that were reminiscent of former Iowa running back Akrum Wadley.

Miguel Recinos made the point-after kick to give Iowa a 21-10 lead with 45 seconds left before halftime.

However, that was enough time for Nebraska to march into field-goal range for Barret Pickering. He missed his first attempt from 51 yards, but Iowa defensive back Riley Moss was penalized for being offsides.

That moved the ball up five yards, and that was enough for Pickering, who cleared the uprights from 46 yards as time expired, cutting Iowa’s lead to 21-13 at halftime.

Nebraska started on offense in the third quarter, but had to punt after running just three plays.

Iowa took over at its own 44-yard line and then marched down the field on eight plays for its fourth touchdown of the game, which came on a 5-yard pass from Stanley to Sargent with 9:13 left in the third quarter.

Sophomore Brandon Smith helped sparked the drive with a leaping 21-yard catch near the Iowa sideline that gave his team a first down at the Nebraska 19.