Nathan Bazata sprinted toward the south end zone of Memorial Stadium on Friday, picked up the Hy-Vee Heroes Trophy and, along with Noah Fant, held it aloft to the cheers of Iowa fans.
Bazata, a senior defensive tackle from Howells, and Fant, a sophomore tight end from Omaha South, were celebrating the Hawkeyes' 56-14 win over Nebraska — a victory in which they both played key roles.
“It was pretty sweet going out like that, especially doing it in your home state,” Bazata said. ”I got a little emotional there. I was excited we won, put up that many points. I mean, it’s always good to win in your home state. … But it was more important we bounced back from the last two weeks and get up off the mat and just competed. That meant more than anything.”
Bazata finished with three tackles, including one that snuffed out a Nebraska fake field goal. With the game tied at 7 early in the second quarter, the Huskers tried the fake with holder Zack Darlington tossing the ball to Luke McNitt.
“I kind of knew just looking at the guy in front of me,” Bazata said. “His eyes were kind of wandering a little bit. I shot the A gap and he was right there. It was kind of a shock to me. It just landed in my arms. Things work out sometimes.”
Fant played an even bigger role, scoring two touchdowns, the first pulling Iowa into a 14-14 tie with just 25 seconds left in the first half. On the second, he caught a short pass from Nate Stanley and raced 68 yards down the sideline, diving into the end zone to give Iowa a 42-14 third quarter lead.
“I didn’t really plan it,” Fant said of the end-zone splash that drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. “I was getting trailed. I saw multiple guys taking an angle, trying to get me at the end. I did it to make sure I scored. I was surprised I got flagged.”
Fant’s touchdowns bookended a 7-minute half-spanning stretch that saw Iowa score 35 consecutive points to blow open the game. Iowa outgained Nebraska 209 yards to 59 in the third quarter.
“It just kind of happened. It wasn’t like a master plan or design,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of the third-quarter dominance. “The first part was playing through the bumps we created. Then we were even at half. We felt pretty good about that.
“We felt like if we could play clean football in the second half, and maybe force a thing or two, something good could happen in the second half. But I didn’t envision that.“
The bumps, a fumbled snap on punt that set up Nebraska's first touchdown, a returner stepping out of bounds at the 1-yard line and some missed coverages, were overcome by the resilient Hawkeyes.
The first two were matched by a 99-yard-touchdown drive, capped by a 20-yard Akrum Wadley run, the third by the half-ending drive that saw Fant’s 4-yard reception knot the game at 14.
Then came the third quarter. Fant had a simple explanation for the Iowa offense catching fire, especially after halftime.
“We played looser,” he said.
Fant knew he’d be coming home to Nebraska when he signed with Iowa out of high school and that he’d be playing in Memorial Stadium for the first time.
“It wasn’t like I had it circled on the calendar,” he said. “But it’s a lot of fun being able to be back in my home state, to play in Memorial Stadium. I don’t know how many people I had here. Friends and family, a lot of people I went to high school go to school here. So there were a lot. But I didn’t make a big deal of it before the game. But it was a big win for me, being from Nebraska, a big win.”