IOWA CITY — Miguel Recinos never saw his game-winning 41-yard field goal split the uprights Friday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa’s senior kicker was too busy sprinting to the other end of the field after giving the Hawkeyes a 31-28 victory over Nebraska, trying to elude a pack of celebrating teammates who were chasing Recinos after he pounded through the game winner as time expired.
"The hold was good. I hit the ball, hit it well, and I once I knew it was on target, I knew it was good. I knew it was going through," Recinos said.
The effort allowed Iowa to retain possession of the Heroes Trophy for the fourth straight year and came after Recinos moved beyond a missed 37-yard opportunity midway through the fourth quarter that provided the Cornhuskers with a chance to ultimately tie game.
"That was tough miss," Recinos said. "It’s a lonely feeling since I went out there with the full expectation to make the kick and that didn’t happen. … Right after the miss, I reset and got back in it to try to get ready to make that next one."
Recinos said he has typically found motivation in misses.
"The coaches probably don't want to hear that, but I think I've always been able to turn my anger into a positive," Recinos said. "When I missed that first one, I felt like I was going to get another shot."
Iowa needed another shot after Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez marched his team 80 yards on 13 plays, carrying the ball into the end zone to pull Nebraska within 28-26 with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining.
A scrambling Martinez hit Kade Warner, the son of former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, for the two-point conversion that tied the game.
"They didn’t have a thing to lose, and they played that way," Iowa free safety Jake Gervase said.
To finish off an 8-4 regular season, the Hawkeyes took a risk or two as well.
And when it mattered most, Iowa converted.
Facing fourth-and-7 from the Nebraska 38-yard line with :42 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes unsuccessfully first attempted to draw the Cornhuskers’ offsides, but getting the look they wanted from the Nebraska defense, Iowa stuck with the initial play call.
Quarterback Nate Stanley then hit T.J. Hockenson with an 11-yard strike for a first down.
"It’s always good when you get the look you want," Hockenson said. "It’s a play we work all the time in practice, and it was there. Nate threw a good ball, and all I had to do was catch it."
Nebraska coach Scott Frost considered it a "gutsy" play call by Iowa.
"I figured they were punting. That’s a gutsy decision," Frost said. "If they gave us the ball back right there with 40 seconds left, I like our chances of hitting a couple of plays and giving us an opportunity for a field goal. They rolled the dice."
After Hockenson wrapped his arms around the chain-moving catch, Mekhi Sargent completed his career-high 173-yard rushing performance with a 4-yard carry on first down to give Recinos a chance to hit his first career game-winning field goal as time expired.
"When we got the first down, we knew had all the momentum," Hockenson said.
Momentum swung both ways throughout the game.
Iowa had built a 28-13 lead in the third quarter but missed a chance to open a three-possession advantage when it failed to execute a fake field goal in the third quarter.
Holder Colten Rastetter did connect with Hockenson on a fourth-and-2 pass from the Nebraska 3-yard line, but Hockenson was dropped 1 yard behind the first-down marker.
"We don’t see it as that big of a risk because you’re giving them the ball on the two," Rastetter said.
Tell that to Martinez.
The Cornhuskers flashy freshman quarterback marched Nebraska 98 yards on the ensuing possession, pulling Nebraska within 28-20 when he hit Maurice Washington with a 28-yard touchdown pass as part of a 26-of-38 passing performance that covered 260 yards.
Nebraska gained valuable momentum at the start of that drive when Luke Gifford rushed for 5 yards to the Cornhuskers’ 14 on a fake punt.
"That was a big moment for us and it allowed us to continue our drive to get the offense going," Martinez said.
The Cornhuskers (4-8, 3-6 Big Ten) needed that after Iowa found early momentum of its own, particularly on the ground where the Hawkeyes rushed for a season-high 266 of their 419 yards.
Many came early as Stanley complemented his 16-of-27 passing with repeated handoffs to Sargent and Toren Young, who combined for 44 carries and 256 rushing yards.
The Hawkeyes (8-4, 5-4) covered at least 79 yards on scoring drives of 11, 13 and 15 plays on their way to a 21-10 lead with :45 remaining in the first half after a cutback by Sargent led him to a 15-yard touchdown run and the first of his two scores.
"The line did a great job, the backs ran well and that leads to the kind of drives you like to see," Stanley said. "It was what we needed to do, keep the ball out of the hands of (their) offense."
As Iowa accumulated a nine-minute edge in possession time, Frost felt the frustration.
"Those games drive me crazy as a play caller because it seems like you stand on the sidelines for hours," he said. "They did a great job with that, though. They did a great job of managing the clock."