Senior walk-ons lead the way in Outback victory

It’s been a wild ride for both wide receiver Nick Easley and safety Jake Gervase, and they’re going out on a high note.

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Senior walk-ons lead the way in Outback victory

Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepts a pass in the end zone during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepts a pass in the end zone during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepts a pass in the end zone during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa safety Jake Gervase intercepts a pass in the end zone during the Outback Bowl game between Iowa and Mississippi State at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday, January 1, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs 27-22.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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TAMPA, Fla. – When Iowa needed a spark offensively, the offense turned to wide receiver Nick Easley.

When the defense needed a stop, safety Jake Gervase was in the right spot.

Neither player started out on scholarship, but both seniors proved to be the Outback Bowl’s most impactful players on Tuesday.

“It was really awesome. I couldn’t really write it up any better – kind of a story-book ending for me, personally, and this team,” Gervase said.

Easley took home the honor of the Outback Bowl’s Most Valuable Player. Catching 8 passes for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns, his 75-yard catch and run sparked the momentum in favor of a previously-lifeless Hawkeye offense.

“There’s a couple different options in that play, a couple different places for the ball to go, but with the play action – and you know how aggressive their defense is – they kind of bit on that, bit on the play-fake,” he said. “Luckily Nate [Stanley] was able to find me, really good job by him seeing me down the seam.”

His second touchdown, which happened to also be his 100th catch of his Hawkeye career, ended up being the game-winning score.

On the other side of the ball, Gervase secured a much-needed red-zone turnover, interception a Nick-Fitzgerald pass in the fourth quarter.

He finished with 6 tackles (four of which were solo) and 3 pass break-ups to go along with his pick. His final pass breakup sealed Iowa’s victory late, as he was the defender there to disrupt Fitzgerald’s final pass.

“I kind of recognized the formation,” he said. “I had a good idea of what they were going to try to do on fourth-and-5. I knew that if we made the stop, that was going to be the game. It was a play they ran in the first third down of the game, too. So, I just made a break on the ball – I didn’t want to go for an interception in case of something crazy happening.”

Neither Easley nor Gervase had an easy path to where they are now in the Hawkeye program; Gervase, a walk-on from Davenport, lost his starting gig at one point last season and had to fight to retain his role with the first-teamers. Meanwhile, Easley had no Division One offers out of high school and walked on from Iowa Western Community College in 2017.

“Being a part of this program, being an Iowa Hawkeye is the best decision I’ve ever made,” Easley said. “I’m so proud of this team, I’m so proud that I got to be a part of this team, this program, under Kirk Ferentz. It’s been an unbelievable ride, and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has a history of turning walk-on players into team leaders and valuable contributors. On Tuesday, that developmental prowess was on full display.

“I just get emotional talking about it. I’m so thankful for him and the opportunity he and his staff have given me,” Easley said. “I don’t think there’s a better coach in the entire nation, and I’m just talking about giving kids a chance, treating everyone fairly and with respect.”

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