Kramer Rath was up first.
The Lincoln Southwest graduate, a kicker who never saw a live snap in his Nebraska career, jogged toward Mike Riley with a smile on his face, and shared an embrace with Nebraska’s embattled head coach.
“I’m glad you came here,” Riley told him.
So it went on down the line as 21 Husker seniors and junior Thomas Connely were honored during pregame festivities at Memorial Stadium.
Some embraces were longer than others. Joshua Kalu smiled and shared a long hug with Riley. Some players were more emotional than others. Kieron Williams fought back tears. So did De'Mornay Pierson-El, the senior receiver who just minutes earlier fielded his final pregame punt in the north end zone and gave an emotional speech to his teammates while perched on their shoulders.
If it was Riley's final time on the field with this group, his emotions didn't show it. As always, the 64-year old was steady, clapping his hands for each player and smiling widely. Steady until the end.
Heroes honored: Geoffrey Bennett of Norfolk and Jerry Goeders of Dayton, Iowa, were honored as part of the Heroes Game festivities at Memorial Stadium.
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In addition to Nebraska and Iowa playing for the Heroes Game trophy, one resident each from Nebraska and Iowa is honored for a heroic act during the previous year.
Bennett, who serves in the Army National Guard, stopped at the scene of an accident in Omaha in December and aided a woman who had been struck by a vehicle and was critically injured while waiting near her broken-down car. Bennett used his belt to stop bleeding in the woman’s severely injured leg, and stayed with her until emergency crews arrived.
Goeders swam into Lake Rathbun in Moravia, Iowa, last summer and saved an 8-year old girl who was struggling in the water.
Elliott remembered: Former Nebraska assistant and longtime Iowa assistant coach Bob Elliott was honored with a video between the first and second quarters. Elliott, who was at Nebraska for less than five months, died in July after a battle with a type of blood cancer.
Elliott served as safeties coach and defensive analyst at Nebraska, the final stop in a nearly 40-year career that included jobs at Kent State, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Kansas State, Ball State and San Diego State.
Elliott's father, Chalmers "Bump" Elliott, is a former Iowa athletic director and was in attendance Saturday, as was his wife, Joey, and children Grant and Jessica.
State finalists in attendance: Several prep football players who were on the Memorial Stadium turf earlier in the week for state championship games were on the sidelines Saturday. Most notable in the group were York stars Garrett Snodgrass, who accepted a Husker scholarship offer before the game, and defensive lineman Masry Mapieu. Also spotted were Kearney High's Isaiah Stalbird and Miko Maessner.