Top 10 Iowa football moments of 2017 features million-dollar grabs, iconic touchdowns

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The 2017 football season ended more than three months ago and with spring football currently in full swing, the Hawkeyes are focused on the present and future.

But it’s always worth a few moments to appreciate the moments that led the team to its current situation. The Hawkeyes finished 8-5 overall and ended a five-game bowl losing streak with a 27-20 win against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. Iowa dropped close games against 10-win teams Michigan State and Northwestern but beat Ohio State 55-24 and won three rivalry trophies.

Here are the top 10 football moments of the 2017 season in succession.

10. Noah Fant catch-and-run

Iowa’s Noah Fant led tight ends nationally in both touchdown catches (11) and yards-per-catch (16.5). In his return to his home state of Nebraska, Fant put up one of the best plays of the season and provided an exclamation point in a 56-14 beatdown of the Huskers.

With the Hawkeyes leading 35-14 and facing second-and-10 at their 32, Fant lined up as a right H-back and rushed to the right flat at the snap. Quarterback Nate Stanley pump-faked to the middle of the field and then tossed wide to Fant, who turned back to catch the ball. Nebraska cornerback Chris Jones just missed the ball, and Fant quickly turned upfield. He sprinted past four Nebraska defenders and dove into the end zone for a 68-yard touchdown reception. Fant finished the day with 3 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns.

9. Nate Stanley cracks Buckeyes

Stanley threw for 5 touchdowns in a shocking 55-24 beatdown of Ohio State. He threw a fade route for a score, rifled another pass near the goal line and hit two different players in the flat for scores. Perhaps his most memorable touchdown pass of the game came late in the third quarter with the Hawkeyes leading 31-17.

Iowa was perched at the Ohio State 2-yard line and Stanley rolled to his right on a bootleg. Buckeyes defensive end Sam Hubbard sniffed out the play but tripped as he rushed Stanley. Hubbard grabbed on to Stanley’s left leg as the quarterback stood and delivered a hard, high fastball to tight end T.J. Hockenson in the back of the end zone for a score. The touchdown symbolized everything that happened that day for both teams. Everything worked out perfectly for Iowa and Ohio State lost its footing on every possession.

8. Akrum Wadley wows ’em

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley was one of the program’s greatest playmakers. He finished with 35 career touchdowns — one shy of the school record — and was only the fourth running back in school history with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Few players produced as many electric moments as Wadley over his final three seasons.

Against No. 4 Penn State in a nationally televised prime-time game, the Hawkeyes trailed 15-7 with about 10 minutes remaining. Facing third-and-6 at the Iowa 30, Stanley stood in the shotgun with Wadley to his left. At the snap, Wadley took one step to his left, which drew in linebacker Jason Cabinda, then wheeled into the middle of the field where Stanley delivered the ball about six yards past the line of scrimmage. Wadley evaded six Penn State defenders and sprinted down the field and dove into the end zone to put Iowa back in the game. Wadley later burst into the end zone on a 35-yard run to push the Hawkeyes ahead, but the Nittany Lions scored on the game’s final play to win 21-19.

7. Brandon Snyder’s emotional return

Iowa free safety Brandon Snyder suffered a torn ACL in a spring 2017 practice and it appeared he would miss the season. Instead, Snyder pushed through rehab and returned to the lineup for Iowa’s sixth game against Illinois.

With the Hawkeyes holding a 17-13 third-quarter lead, Snyder picked off an overthrown pass at his 12-yard line and raced 88 yards up the right sideline for a touchdown return. Unfortunately for Snyder, it was the only game in which he played last season. He re-injured the knee, which required surgery. He’s out of spring practice as well.

6. Josh Jackson’s double-dip

Iowa’s 38-14 loss at Wisconsin was forgettable for many reasons, but cornerback Josh Jackson produced multiple highlight reel plays that game.

Just 90 seconds into the game, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook tested Jackson and paid for it dearly. Jackson jumped an out route and returned Hornibrook’s pass 43 yards for a touchdown. Then in the third quarter, Hornibrook threw toward running back Rachid Ibrahim in the right flat. The ball floated high and bounced off Ibrahim’s hands and caromed directly to Jackson, who returned the ball 52 yards for a score. Jackson also forced a fumble in the second period.

5. Cy-Hawk sizzler

Freshman Ihmir Smith-Marsette had an inconsistent rookie season, but he was spectacular against in-state rival Iowa State. Twice with Iowa trailing, Smith-Marsette hauled in touchdown strikes from Stanley, the last of which won the game 44-41.

The Hawkeyes trailed by 10 points with 6:25 left in the game. On first-and-10 at the Cyclones’ 15, Stanley appeared to overthrow Smith-Marsette in the back of the end zone, but the receiver stretched out to snag the ball for a score. Then with ISU leading by a field goal in overtime, Smith-Marsette snagged a 5-yard pass in the flat for the game-winning score. Smith-Marsette finished with 4 catches for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns.

4. New York State of Mind

Iowa had lost five straight bowl games so there was added importance to its Pinstripe Bowl game against Boston College on Dec. 27.

The Hawkeyes fought back from a 7-point first-half deficit to tie the game with less than 5 minutes remaining. With Boston College facing third-and-8 at the 50, Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson broke around right tackle Chris Lindstrom and stripped quarterback Darius Wade. Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse recovered the ball at the BC 45. Three plays later, Hawkeyes fullback Drake Kulick scored on a 1-yard plunge and the defense held on to win 27-20.

3. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy

The Hawkeyes are 4-1 the last 10 years against top-5 teams at Kinnick Stadium, and the only loss came on the game’s final play. On Nov. 4 against Ohio State, the scene resembled the movie “A Bronx Tale” where Sonny locks the bar doors and tells the motorcycle gang “Now yous can’t leave” before the beatdown begins.

In Iowa’s 55-24 victory against the Buckeyes, the tone was set on the game’s first play. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett dropped back to pass, looked first to his left, then tossed to his right toward receiver Binjimen Victor. Iowa safety Amani Hooker stepped in front of Victor, picked off the ball and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown just eight seconds in the game. Kinnick was set off, and the raucous crowd was whipped into a frenzy.

2. Cy-onara

The entire state of Iowa circles the calendar on the second Saturday in September when the Hawkeyes and Cyclones face off. Last fall, the teams played perhaps the most exciting Cy-Hawk edition in Iowa’s 44-41 overtime victory at Jack Trice Stadium.

In a game filled of wild swings, Iowa went from leading by 11 points to trailing by 10 within the span of about 10 game minutes. The Hawkeyes knotted up the score, then gave up a 74-yard touchdown pass to fall behind again. Then with 1:25 remaining, the Hawkeyes moved to Iowa State’s 46, which set up perhaps the most important play in running back Wadley’s Iowa career.

On first-and-10, Wadley lined up to the right of Stanley, who was in the shotgun. At the snap, Wadley jogged through an opening in the Iowa State pass rush and quickly cut to his left with linebacker Joel Lanning trailing. Stanley delivered a dump pass to Wadley in the left flat. Wadley raced past Lanning, broke a tackle and sprinted upfield to the ISU 10. Rather than hop out of bounds, Wadley dove into multiple defenders and worked into the end zone to tie the game and send it to overtime. Wadley finished with 118 rushing yards on 28 carries and caught 4 passes for 72 yards. He scored twice.

1. A million-dollar catch

Of all the moments in Iowa’s shocking, improbable victory against Ohio State, one play stands above all.

Jackson, who led the nation in interceptions (8) and passes defensed (26), picked off 3 passes in the 55-24 victory. But midway through the fourth quarter with Iowa leading 48-17, Jackson provided the exclamation point to his All-America resume.

Barrett dropped back and fired toward receiver Binjimen Victor, who was running a go route. Jackson pressed Victor for much of the play, then let him go. Just as Victor appeared to break past Jackson, the ball hung in the air. Then with one hand extended and reaching backward, Jackson hauled in the catch of the year. BTN named it as the top Big Ten play of the season and Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss gave Jackson a shout-out on Monday Night Football. It was a dazzling play for Jackson, who is a likely first-round NFL draft pick in late April.

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