Duncan's Kick Entertains Winning Hawkeyes

Iowa kicker Keith Duncan follows through on his game-winning field goal in Friday's 27-24 victory over Nebraska. (Bruce Thorson/USA Today Sports)
John Bohnenkamp

LINCOLN, Neb. — Keith Duncan, showman.

His field goal was tumbling toward victory, so the Iowa kicker wanted to give Nebraska a final goodbye.

So he pointed toward the Huskers’ sideline — hey, thanks for those two timeouts you called.

Wagged a scolding finger — yeah, those timeouts didn’t work.

And may or may not have blown a kiss toward Nebraska coach Scott Frost.

“It was for everyone,” Duncan said, who in a roundabout way confirmed the buss.

That’s entertainment.

“It was just having some fun,” Duncan said.

Duncan’s 48-yard field goal with one second to go saved the No. 19 Hawkeyes in Friday’s 27-24 win at Memorial Stadium.

It was a perfect curtain-closer to a 9-3 season for the Hawkeyes, who won their final three games after a bitter 24-22 loss at Wisconsin doomed their Big Ten West Division chances.

“November,” linebacker Kristian Welch said, “is when you play championship football.”

There was no title at the end, but that’s not to say it wasn’t fun.

It was the second consecutive year Iowa left the rivalry with the Huskers with a game-winning kick. Miguel Recinos did it in last season’s 31-28 victory in Iowa City — Frost tried a timeout freeze in that one that didn’t work, which prompted Recinos to refer to him as "Ol’ Frost" in the post-game — and Duncan was expecting some sort of “snarky comment” from his former teammate in a text message after this one.

It was Duncan’s 29th field goal of the season, adding to his Big Ten and school single-season record. Duncan has done this before — his kick in 2016 as time ran out gave Iowa a win over No. 3 Michigan.

“He showed it all year,” offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “When it got down to it, he got the job done.”

“I watched the whole thing,” said defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who after a 14-tackle day was in there blocking on the field-goal unit. “I hit my guy. When I saw it, it was curving left, and then going straight down the middle.

“It was a great feeling.”

Six seconds remained as Duncan lined up for the kick. The first timeout from the Huskers came before the ball was snapped, the whistle blew for the second one as holder Colten Rastetter grabbed the snap and Duncan kicked the ball.

“I didn’t know they could do that,” Rastetter said.

All of this, of course, didn’t bother Duncan, who walked away for some "me time," and told Rastetter to stay away — “I told Colten if he said anything to me, I was going to bop him in the head,” Duncan said.

Duncan hadn’t kicked toward that end zone in the darkness of the second half.

“I was so glad (Frost) called the timeouts, actually,” Duncan said. “It allowed me to just get in my mindset. Focus on what I needed to do. Find my spot in the background of where my spot is to kick.”

Rastetter knew it was good, and ran with Duncan to celebrate.

“That’s a big poke, too,” Rastetter said. “That’s not a normal chip-shot. Being around kickers like that, you know when they hit them well.”

Rastetter pointed toward the Huskers, too.

“I saw Keith point,” Rastetter said. “I thought I might as well point, too. Join the party.

“We knew. We ran away. We pointed at the sideline. And away we went.”

Duncan’s kick ended a frantic final drive for the Hawkeyes, who got the ball at their own 26-yard line with 32 seconds left. They hadn't gotten points since Ihmir Smith-Marsette's kickoff return with 8:41 left in the first half, and they hadn't gotten any points from an offensive possession since Duncan's 49-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

“I told the O-line, ‘We’re going to go down there and score,’” Wirfs said.

Of course, that decision belonged to coach Kirk Ferentz, who decided to try to get points instead of going for overtime.

“We thought we might have a chance if we executed,” Ferentz said. “There is some risk and reward involved there.

“But we felt the reward was outweighing the risk.”

“We were going for it,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “That’s kind of been the attitude of the coaches and of the team, I think, this year, being a little more aggressive. We were trying to go for the win.”

Stanley’s first throw appeared to be caught by wide receiver Nico Ragaini for a 38-yard play. But a replay review ruled Ragaini didn’t hang on to the ball.

“It doesn’t really matter what I think,” Ragaini said when asked if he thought he had made the catch. “The ref said I didn’t catch it, I thought I caught it.”

Stanley’s second pass, a throw to Tyrone Tracy, was incomplete. Then Stanley’s third-down pass to Smith-Marsette across the middle was caught for a 22-yard gain.

One play later, another 22-yarder, this one to freshman tight end Sam LaPorta, got the ball to Nebraska 30.

Duncan’s range on this windy, rainy day, to that end of the field was “(48) for a game-winner, (46) was fairly comfortable.”

The spot would be right on the edge.

This was a game that was on the edge after Iowa let a 24-10 halftime lead slip away. The Huskers got two touchdowns in the third quarter — a 39-yard pass from backup quarterback Luke McCaffrey to JD Spielman and a 9-yard run from Wyatt Mazour.

But Iowa’s defense held Nebraska to three-and-outs on their next three possessions.

“We just put in on ourselves,” Welch said. “We wanted that moment. We needed to go out there and make stops.”

“Our guys stood tall, and really did a good job,” Ferentz said.

The Huskers got the ball back with 2:32 to play and got one first down, but the drive was killed when wide receiver Mike Williams was called for an illegal blind-side block on McCaffrey’s 4-yard run on second down.

It was up to Stanley, Smith-Marsette, LaPorta, and then Duncan and friends to put on a final show.

An entertaining finish.

Duncan was told after the game that he would be put on scholarship.

“That was an awesome experience,” he said.

It was an impressive final act.

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