Iowa-Nebraska rivalry on full display before and after the 26-20 Hawkeye victory

Nebraska players were chirping at Keith Duncan pregame, and Kirk Ferentz responded to some comments from Scott Frost in his postgame press conference.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa kicker Keith Duncan attempts a field goal during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers, 26-20. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Keith Duncan ended Nebraska’s season last year with a game-winning kick in Lincoln, and soaked in the moment by blowing kisses at the Cornhuskers’ sideline. In pregame warmups before this year’s matchup, the senior kicker heard some chirping from Nebraska players about that moment.

“They like talking a little bit,” Duncan said postgame. “I think they’re too worried about growing their mustaches [rather] than playing football. That’s the difference between Iowa and Nebraska.”

Nebraska receiver Kade Warner said earlier in the week that Nebraska was growing mustaches for this game. But they didn’t help. No. 24 Iowa’s 26-20 victory over Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Black Friday extended the Hawkeyes’ winning streak to four games and pushed the team to 4-2 on the season.

In typical Iowa-Nebraska fashion, the rivalry was heated on Friday. It was in pregame — as Duncan noted — as well as on the field, and even in the postgame press conferences.

Iowa was the heavy favorite heading into the game, and got out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. But Nebraska didn’t fold and the game was back and forth for four quarters.

“We’re always going to take their best shot,” tight end Sam LaPorta said. “We’ve got a target on our back with those guys. They’re always trying to get us.”

A one-yard touchdown run by Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez with 29 seconds remaining in the first half tied the game at 13 heading into halftime. 

In the 20-minute break between halves, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was told by the officials that Nebraska head coach Scott Frost believed the snapping malfunctions from Nebraska’s center in the half were related to clapping on the Iowa sideline.

“What the hell are we talking about?” Ferentz said postgame. “It’s stupid, right? I have no idea. Plus I do know this, I saw across the field they had like a little clap routine for third downs or something.

“Never heard of that. If a player was on the field doing it, I get that. But what are we talking about? The next thing you know we’re going to be treating this like golf… It’s football, right? It’s football. Are they OK with how I dressed today? Should I be changing my pants, different shirt? What are we talking about?”

To start the third quarter, Nebraska capped an eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by running back Rahmir Johnson, which gave the Huskers a 20-13 lead. But the Hawkeyes commanded the rest of the game.

Iowa responded with a scoring drive of its own that culminated with a two-yard score by running back Mekhi Sargent to tie the game. Duncan converted on a pair of field goals in the fourth quarter to give the team a six-point edge.

The second of those Duncan kicks came after Nebraska’s returner muffed Tory Taylor’s punt and Iowa’s Terry Roberts recovered.

But still, Nebraska had opportunities.

Duncan converted on four field goals on Friday, but his fifth and final kick of the day — another chance at a dagger against Nebraska — hit the crossbar and was no good from 51 yards out. The Huskers took over with just over two minutes left and a chance to lead a game-winning drive.

Any optimism from the Nebraska sideline only lasted four plays.

After three positive plays had Nebraska with first-and-10 at Iowa’s 39-yard line, Martinez — who rotated with quarterback Luke McCaffrey throughout the game — was sacked by defensive end Chauncey Golston, and the ball popped into the air. Iowa’s Zach VanValkenburg grabbed it and went down to the turf, securing the Hawkeye victory in the process.

For the sixth year in a row, Iowa defeated Nebraska to retain the Heroes Trophy.

Duncan didn’t hit Nebraska with the gut punch this season. But he’s still got plenty of celebrating to do. Starting with a call to his uncle — a Nebraska fan. Because what’s a rivalry without a little back-and-forth to go with it.

“He sent me a picture before the game and he was wearing his Nebraska gear under his Iowa gear,” Duncan said. “And I was like, ‘That’s a little bit of foreshadowing. Iowa’s on top of course.’ I can’t wait to rub it in his face a little bit.”

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