For the majority of Friday's early afternoon game between Iowa and Nebraska, it felt as if Nebraska's offense outclassed Iowa's and would ruin a potential Big Ten West title.
And then the game’s final 20 minutes happened.
The Hawkeyes dominated Nebraska by a 22-0 margin in the game’s final 20 minutes to win the game 28-21, cap off a regular season with 10 wins and bring the Heroes Game trophy back to Iowa City for a seventh straight year.
And like most of their wins this season, special teams and defense set the tone and the offense capitalized when needed.
Senior kicker Caleb Shudak knocked in his third field goal of the game just before the end of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-9. At that point, Nebraska’s offense was coming off a 94-yard touchdown drive and the Hawkeyes needed a big play. And they found one in senior Henry Marchese.
Marchese, who had the signature block on Charlie Jones' 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown against Illinois, blocked a Nebraska punt following a three-and-out that was recovered by Kyler Fisher and returned for a touchdown. That made it 21-16 with 14:16 remaining in the game.
A few minutes later, the defense made its signature play. Nebraska's offense was pinned on its own 1-yard line and finally, the defense forced redshirt freshman Logan Smothers to make a mistake. Pressure by Iowa's front seven forced a safety to cut the lead to 21-18 with 9:56 remaining in the game. Three minutes later, Shudak's fourth field goal of the game tied the game at 21 apiece.
The next time out, the defense forced another three-and-out and Iowa's offense had a chance to put its team up for good. It had been another poor showing before that point, the Hawkeyes moved the ball between the 20s, but twice in the red zone turned it over and left without points. But like it had all game, Iowa found an answer in junior running back Tyler Goodson, who finished with 156 yards.
Iowa's running game caught its stride in November and it continued on Friday. Goodson, who was 55 yards from 1,000 on the season heading into Friday, eclipsed that mark early on and averaged close to or over 7 yards per carry throughout the game. On the game-winning drive, Goodson broke off a 55-yard run to put Iowa in scoring position with six minutes to play.
And the game-winning score went to quarterback Spencer Petras, the starter turned backup turned starter again versus the Cornhuskers. Petras replaced starter Alex Padilla at halftime and completed 7-of-13 passes for 102 yards and a 2-yard rushing touchdown with just a few minutes to play.
Nebraska had a chance at the end, making it within Iowa's 35-yard line but the Iowa secondary made the game-clinching play. Jermari Harris, in place of senior Matt Hankins, intercepted Smothers at the goal line and ended any comeback hope.
It wasn't pretty but once again, Iowa's special teams superiority, a greedy defense and an opportunistic offense came together for a patented team win.
And it came just in time.
Iowa and Nebraska were playing for everything in their own way: Iowa's still-alive Big Ten West hopes and Nebraska's quest to end the season on a high note and the Heroes Game trophy.
Now, Iowa's win sets up an interesting Saturday afternoon in Minnesota, where its division title hopes reside. Every Hawkeye coach, player and fan will turn into Golden Gopher fans hoping the team can knock off Wisconsin.
A Wisconsin loss on Saturday and Iowa is playing for the Big Ten title.
But if that doesn't happen, the Hawkeyes accomplished a few major goals: the fourth team in the Kirk Ferentz era to win 10 games in a regular season and a dominating seventh straight win over their end-of-season rival.
And that should be celebrated.
This article originally appeared on Hawk Central: College football: Iowa stuns Nebraska with late rally, nabs 10th win