AMES – Ihmir Smith-Marsette didn’t let this chance slip through his hands.
The true freshman who saw little action a week ago after fumbling in the first quarter of his first college game wrapped his arms around a five-yard pass from Nate Stanley that lifted the Iowa football team to a 44-41 overtime victory over Iowa State.
A sellout crowd of 61,500 looked on as the Hawkeyes overcame a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter, forced overtime on a 46-yard touchdown catch by Akrum Wadley with 1 minute, 9 seconds remaining in regulation and then turned back the Cyclones in overtime.
The deciding score came on Stanley’s fifth touchdown pass of the day and his eighth in two games as Iowa’s starting quarterback, part of a 27-of-41 effort that covered 333 yards and allowed Iowa to hold onto the Cy-Hawk trophy for the third straight year.
“If we wouldn’t have got this done, that would have been one quiet bus ride home,’’ Wadley said. “We needed to get this one, needed it in the worst way.’’
Smith-Marsette made certain that happened.
Iowa State, which scored on three straight possessions in the third and early fourth quarters to open a 31-21 lead, had the ball to open the overtime that Wadley forced by dancing his way through the Cyclones’ defense on the Hawkeyes’ longest pass play of the day.
Complementing his 118-yard rushing performance, Wadley cut in, cut out and didn’t dare step out of bounds as he knotted up the score at 38-38.
“Coach would have been all over me if I had stepped out. I just needed to make a play and I found a little room to make it happen,’’ Wadley said.
The Cyclones’ Jake Park moved ISU to the 15-yard line in the overtime before Michael Ojemudia broke up a pass intended for Allen Lazard in the end zone.
David Montgomery rushed for two yards and after an incomplete pass on third down, Iowa State settled for a 30-yard field goal by Garrett Owens but the 44-41 lead didn’t last.
The Hawkeyes needed five snaps to answer, using a 10-yard pass to Nick Easley on a third-and-four play from the 19 to move the ball to the nine. Following a four-yard gain by James Butler, Smith-Marsette collected the game-winning pass in the front right corner of the end zone.
“That last play was something we had been practicing hard in practice,’’ Smith-Marsette said. “It’s a play that we know if we need something we can go to it. We were down on the goal line. It was the perfect play to run, the perfect coverage to go against it and we executed.’’
It was the perfect ending for a freshman who scored on his fourth reception of the day, but more significantly retained the confidence of his coaches despite a shaky debut.
“Last week, I had a minor setback, but this week I came back and they showed they believed in me,’’ Smith-Marsette said. “I took advantage of it.’’
Wadley, a product of the same Weequahic High School program in New Jersey as Smith-Marsette, understood. He dealt with his own fumble issues early in his Iowa career.
“When you’re young, you’re going to make mistakes, but you can’t let them eat you,’’ Wadley said. “You have to get through it, keep fighting. I talked to him about that. He’s my guy.’’
Coach Kirk Ferentz said last week coaches planned to work Smith-Marsette more later in last week’s Wyoming game, but the right situation never presented itself.
“The play we scored on, it was one we felt good about and when we got the look, we went out and executed it,’’ Ferentz said. “It was the right call at the right time.’’
And there wasn’t anything Iowa State could do about it.
Like Ferentz, coach Matt Campbell praised his team’s resiliency throughout a back-and-forth battle which saw the two teams combine for 964 yards of offense.
Like Iowa, Iowa State overcame a doubie-digit deficit. The Cyclones fought their way back from a 21-10 deficit after Wadley scored on a one-yard carry midway through the third quarter.
The gritty running of Montgomery and the arm of Park led the charge.
Montgomery rushed for 65 of his 112 yards and recorded all five of his receptions in the second half, complementing the 25-of-46 passing of Park which covered 347 yards.
Lazard’s second touchdown reception of the game, a 30-yard catch for a score by Hakeem Butler and a seven-yard run into the end zone by Montgomery left ISU in front 31-21 with 11:46 left in regulation.
“We just kept fighting back and took the lead. We get into overtime, but we just couldn’t make that final dagger play that you need to make to win the game,’’ Campbell said.
Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse said at the time Iowa State opened its 10-point lead, time was about the only thing the Hawkeyes had going for them.
“We had a little lull and it seemed like everything they were doing was working,’’ Hesse said. “They didn’t quit and neither did we.’’
Smith-Marsette caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Stanley with 6:27 to go in the fourth quarter, one play before Hesse intercepted a pass by Park and returned the game’s only turnover 13 yards to the Iowa State 5-yard line.
Four plays later, Miguel Recinos tied the game at 31-31 with a 23-yard field goal but Park didn’t let it stay that way for long.
He went over the top of the Iowa defense and found the 6-foot-6 Butler open for a 74-yard touchdown which moved the Cyclones back in front 38-31 with 4:36 left. The teams traded punts before Stanley calmly orchestrated a seven-play, 89-yard drive which gave the Hawkeye a chance in overtime.
The drive ended with Stanley’s fourth touchdown pass of the day and completed Iowa’s fourth scoring drive of 89 or more yards.
“For him to do this on the road in such a tough environment say a lot,’’ Ferentz said. “I had a flashback of C.J. Beathard two years ago here making some really big plays for us. You come out of this game thinking this guy’s got something to him.’’