Nebraska storms back, clips Iowa in OT
Iowa City, Iowa — Nebraska found itself down 17 points and staring at a devastating third straight loss.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. led the Huskers on one of the best comebacks in school history — and took some heat off of embattled coach Bo Pelini.
Kenny Bell caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in overtime and Nebraska rallied to beat Iowa 37-34 on Friday, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. had four TD passes for the Cornhuskers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten), who trailed by as much as 24-7 before storming back in the second half.
Nebraska tied the school record for its largest road comeback.
"That is one of the gutsiest performances from a quarterback that I've seen in a long time," said Pelini, whose job status was again a hot topic this week, of Armstrong. "There isn't anybody who competes harder than he does."
Armstrong's impressive effort came during one of the wackier Big Ten games in recent memory.
Iowa scored a touchdown on offense, defense and special teams and still couldn't hold off the Huskers.
Jordan Canzeri caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 left in regulation to put Iowa ahead 31-28. But Drew Brown's 20-yard field goal with 8 seconds left forced overtime.
Armstrong threw TD passes to Taariq Allen and Bell, and De'Mornay Pierson-El's 80-yard punt return for a touchdown put Nebraska ahead 28-24 with 12:06 left in the fourth.
Jake Rudock had 230 yards and two TD passes for Iowa (7-5, 4-4). The Hawkeyes closed the regular season with back-to-back home losses and will head to its bowl game without a single win over an FBS team above .500.
"We had our opportunities. No question about it," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "The two things that really cost us were turnovers and then errors, misgivings in the special teams area."
Iowa seemed poised to blow out the Huskers early in the second half, jumping ahead 24-7.
It reality, the game was just getting interesting.
Nebraska responded behind Armstrong, who brought the Huskers back within 24-21 on a 34-yard TD pass to Allen and a 32-yarder to Bell early in the fourth quarter.
Pierson-El had been stopped by Iowa punter Dillon Kidd on his previous return. But he blew past Kidd and the rest of the Hawkeyes to give Nebraska the improbable lead with three TDs in less than 5 minutes.
"Once they kicked it to me again, I was like, 'Seriously?' Thanksgiving was the other day and that is what I'm thankful for," Pierson-El said. "I said to Coach the other day that if they give me one I'm going to be thankful for it."
Rudock answered right back though, finding Canzeri alone in the flat for the touchdown.
Armstrong wasn't done either, finding Brandon Reilly for a crucial 35-yard completion to set up the game-tying kick.
Marshall Koehn hit a 25-yard field goal in overtime, briefly giving Iowa a 34-31 lead.
Bell's game-winning catch by the pylon was reviewed, but the call on the field was upheld.
Ameer Abdullah had 106 yards rushing and Bell caught two TD passes for Nebraska.
"I've been around a long time and coached a lot of years and I don't know if I've ever been more proud of a group of guys," said Pelini, who has led Nebraska to at least nine wins in each of his six seasons as coach.
The Hawkeyes dominated the first half, and John Lowdermilk took an interception back 17 yards for a touchdown. But they only led 10-7, largely because of four turnovers.
But Rudock caught Nebraska in a cornerback blitz early in the third quarter and hit Tevaun Smith, who raced 37 yards to put the Hawkeyes up 17-7.
Nebraska Punter Sam Foltz then dropped a snap. He recovered in time to get the punt off, but it ricocheted off lineman Zach Hannon's back. Drew Ott happily scooped up the loose ball, giving Iowa a 24-7 point lead with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
But the Hawkeyes couldn't hold the lead. They wound up finishing fourth in the Big Ten West, a division many thought it could win this season.
Mark Weisman had 82 yards rushing for Iowa.
"We lost five games. Each one is a different story," Ferentz said. "There's no way to predict this in August."