LINCOLN, Neb. — It was loud, it was off key and it was delivered in a multitude of tempos, but it never sounded better.
With the Heroes Trophy hoisted above their heads for the first time ever, Iowa players sang the school’s fight song as they celebrated with fans packed into a corner of Nebraska’s cavernous Memorial Stadium, savoring every last second of a 38-17 victory Friday over the Cornhuskers.
Completing the 180-degree turnaround from last year’s 4-8 record, the Hawkeyes won their eighth game of the season in dominating fashion over an opponent they had not beaten anywhere since 1981 and had not defeated in five tries on their home field since 1943.
“To play the way we played together, to win like this, wow,’’ running back Mark Weisman said. “We just kept working, kept fighting. Everybody on both sides of the ball, we kept believing that good things would happen.’’
It took some time.
Iowa didn’t put the Cornhuskers away until Weisman and backup quarterback C.J. Beathard scored on touchdown runs of 2 and 4 yards in the fourth quarter to extend a 24-17 lead the Hawkeyes built in part because of Cornhuskers blunders.
Two interceptions, a fumble and a botched fake punt attempt turned into 21 points for Iowa, which scored the game’s first 14 points and never trailed as it earned its fourth road victory of the season.
“They gave us some short fields to work with and we made the most of them. Wins don’t come easy in the Big Ten, and when you have a chance to get one, you have to go for it,’’ said Kevonte Martin-Manley, who caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Jake Rudock one play after Christian Kirksey dropped punter Sam Foltz for an 8-yard loss on an unsuccessful punt fake.
Martin-Manley praised the call that extended the 17-10 lead Iowa owned at the time.
“To come right back at them, that was big. Jake (Rudock) made a great throw and (offensive coordinator Greg) Davis made a great call to go for it then and there,’’ Martin-Manley said.
Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini was in no mood to disagree after his gamble on a 4th-and-3 call backfired.
“We liked the look they were in and we whiffed on a block, the most important block,’’ Pelini said. “We took a chance and it didn’t work out. It’s my fault.’’
Not much worked for injury-riddled Nebraska.
Ron Kellogg became the third quarterback to start this season for the Cornhuskers when Tommy Armstrong, a seven-game starter who replaced injured Taylor Martinez, couldn’t go because of an ankle injury.
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Anthony Hitchens and James Morris set a tone with interceptions that ended Nebraska’s first two drives and led the Hawkeyes to a 7-0 lead following a 10-yard touchdown reception by C.J. Fiedorowicz with 16 seconds left in the first quarter.
“The defense did a great job getting us the ball all day and (Rudock), he’s showing that he has the confidence in me to get into the end zone when we get in close,’’ Fiedorowicz said. “It was a great way to start the game.’’
Midway through the second quarter, the leg of punter Connor Kornbrath left Nebraska buried at its own 1- and 3-yard lines, setting up short fields which eventually led to the first of Weisman’s two touchdown runs, a 1-yard carry with 5:15 left which sent Iowa on its way to a 14-3 lead at the break.
Big Ten rushing leader Ameer Abdullah, held to a season-low 85 yards, ran for just 16 yards in the first half but finished off an 11-play, 75-yard drive to open the second half with a 5-yard touchdown run which pulled Nebraska (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten) within 14-10.
Mike Meyer answered with a 31-yard field goal with 6:04 left in the third quarter, shortly before the ill-fated punt fake.
Kellogg did keep the Cornhuskers within 24-17, hitting Quincy Enunwa with a 15-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Louis Trinca-Pasat recovered an Abdullah fumble on Nebraska’s next possession at the Huskers 39-yard line.
Starting for the sixth time in its first 12 possessions inside Nebraska territory, Iowa used a 37-yard run by Jordan Canzeri and Weisman’s 2-yard score with 9:17 to go to regain a two-touchdown lead.
“I didn’t feel real comfortable until the last 4, 5 minutes because they’ve come back to win three of their last four, taking people down to the wire,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There’s nothing easy about coming over here, but I’m really thrilled and proud of our team right now.’’