Henry Marchese thought he had a shot at blocking a Nebraska punt early in the fourth quarter Friday and he knew he had to make a play to help lift Iowa out of a 12-point deficit.
“On that one, I was just like, 'I gotta have it,'” Marchese said. “We need a play and we need a spark. That's what special teams are for, to help the team out in any situation. … They point out their guys who they're trying to block and I knew they weren't going to point me. So I had a free shot at the shield and at the punter.”
Marchese got his hands on the ball just as it was coming off William Przystup’s foot then hit the ground around the Nebraska 10-yard line.
“I rolled over, saw the ball just skyrocket in the air and I saw Fish, Kyler Fisher, catch the ball,” Marchese said. “That was a great catch over his shoulder and then as soon as he caught it, I just went bananas."
Fisher’s touchdown made the score 21-16 and was the key play in Iowa’s second-half comeback that saw the Hawkeyes score 22 consecutive points.
That comeback was led on offense by quarterback Spencer Petras, who came off the bench after halftime, completed 7 of 13 passes for 102 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown; and by running back Tyler Goodson, who had 156 yards rushing, including a 55-yard run to set up Petras’ go-ahead score.
But it was Marchese, a senior defensive back who had switched from offense early in his career and who never started a game for the Hawkeyes, who received the highest praise from his teammates and from coach Kirk Ferentz, who called him the epitome of the Iowa program.
“You feel good for a guy like Tyler Goodson, who had 150 plus yards. You feel good for him, for Petras, the quarterback or whomever,” Ferentz said, his voice cracking with emotion. “But this is maybe even more gratifying, just to see the pride guys take in helping the team. That’s what it’s about.”
In the first half, Iowa struggled to stop Nebraska and its read-option run by Logan Smothers and managed only two field goals in the first 30 minutes.
Smothers scored the Huskers' third touchdown after a long drive in the third quarter. Then the Hawkeye defense largely shut down Nebraska, largely because, its defenders said, of an adjustment in how they played the option.
Iowa put together its 28 points via four field goals, a safety, the blocked punt touchdown and Petras’ sneak that gave a Hawkeyes the seven-point lead with 2:58 left.
That performance in coming back from a deficit with contributions from the offense, defense and special teams also epitomizes Iowa in 2021. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it got the job done.
“We're not the prettiest car in the lot,” Ferentz said. “In college, you’ve got a car that can get you from point A to point B, but it’s not much to look at. That’s probably us. We’re not the prettiest car on the lot, but at least we get from point A to point B pretty successfully most of the time. That’s really what it's all about, getting there. I'm really proud of our guys.”