By Ben Colin
Iowa City – Every game is defined by its heros. The Cy-Hawk Series is no different.
It took overtime for the Hawkeyes to defeat in-state rival Iowa State. It also took a miraculous effort late from freshman Ihmir Smith-Marsette for Iowa to survive the trip to Ames.
Smith-Marsette only recorded four receptions on the day for 36 yards. Statistically, it was nothing special but his numbers weren’t what won the game. Two catches, neither simple, defined the young receivers performance.
The first came halfway through the fourth quarter. Iowa trailing by ten but a drive that stretched from their own eight reached the red zone, that’s when the sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley threw high and long to the Iowa State endzone. At that point, Stanley had overthrown receivers four times. This pass looked like another.
While the ball drifted long, Smith-Marsette laid out to make a diving catch. He landed just inside the endzone, barely enough of his body scraping the surface to be counted for the score. The play was previewed and the TD was upheld.
It was a shocking play from a true freshman in his first career start. He fumbled in his first game as a Hawkeye.
“It shows that they believe in me,” Smith-Marsette said. “This week I came back and they showed they believed in me and I took advantage of it.”
It was the second catch that will go down in the rivalry’s history. A simple, five yard reception that kept black and gold as the state’s colors for another year. On second and goal after a short run by transfer James Butler, Stanley found his target running a slant right to the goal line. Smith-Marsette caught the game winning touchdown that gave Iowa the 44-41 win.
“The last play was something we have been practicing hard,” he said. “It is a play that we know if we need something, we can go to it. We were down at the goal line so it was a perfect play to run.”
If people didn’t know Smith-Marsette before today, they do now. Two huge catches down the stretch in a rivalry game, no one soon forgets that. He easily could become the receiver to watch in Iowa’s offense.
In addition to helping his Hawkeyes win the game, Smith-Marsette bailed out a poor performance by the defense. The tall pass catchers for the Cyclones were no match for the Hawkeye secondary. Smith-Marsette put two scores on the board when Iowa needed it most.
He was targeted six times during the game and had no inexcusable drops. The two balls he didn’t catch sailed over his head, something Stanley had happened numerous times. He avoided the veteran Iowa State secondary by sending it a little too far for his own man on occasion.
The experienced secondary played the final snap as expected, but Stanley was able to hit his target.
“We knew exactly what we wanted out of it, they played the perfect coverage to go against it, and we executed,” Smith-Marsette said.
He was key in the Iowa win. In addition, running back Akrum Wadley and defensive end Parker Hesse supplied crucial plays in the fourth quarter.
Wadley weaved through the defense, breaking four tackles on a 46 yard receiving touchdown that knotted the game at 38. He finished with 118 yards, his second time this season over the century mark.
Hesse recorded an interception that looked eerily similar to his pick-six against Nebraska two years ago. Although he didn’t score, he returned to the Iowa State five yard line. The interception set up a field goal and aided in switching momentum back to the Hawkeyes.
Big plays for Iowa was the difference today. Iowa stole a win from Iowa State when it seemed it wasn’t possible.
Only one thing really matters. A win’s a win.