Ragaini records game-winning touchdown, No. 3 Iowa downs No. 4 Penn State

Iowa junior wide receiver Nico Ragaini caught his first touchdown reception of the season to give the Hawkeyes a 23-20 victory over the Nittany Lions.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini runs downfield after catching a pass during a football game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 23-20. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

Hawkeye junior wide receiver Nico Ragaini came to Iowa for big time football.

And he got it Saturday night.

The wide receiver from New Haven, Connecticut, made the game-winning catch with six minutes and 26 seconds left in the game, giving the Hawkeyes a 23-20 lead — one that held until the end of the contest. 

Ragaini hauled in a 44-yard pass from quarterback Spencer Petras, and evaded Nittany Lion defenders to march 18 yards into the end zone for his first touchdown of the season.

“This was like the biggest of big time, which is pretty awesome,” Ragaini said postgame. “You don’t get moments like this every single day, and just taking advantage of the opportunity. And it was a mentally draining game for sure, and physically burning, but we came out on top. And we fought for it. We deserved it.”

After Iowa came into the fourth quarter trailing by a touchdown, the Hawkeyes scored 10 unanswered points in 15 minutes en route to their sixth win of the season.

Iowa sits at 6-0 in 2021 for the first time since 2015. 

And the Hawkeyes’ victory hinged on a passing route that doesn’t have a name.

“It was just a going out one way [route] and hopefully [Penn State] takes the bait,” Ragaini said. “And the guy took the bait.”

Ragaini was wide open for Petras’s pass — thanks to true freshman Keagan Johnson distracting his defender.

“Spencer made a perfect throw, and the line blocked extra hard, and Keagan ran this guy off,” Ragaini said. “That’s the beauty of it. Everybody just has to do their part. I get the spotlight for this play, though without everyone else it wouldn’t happen.”

But the play — despite being unnamed — was in Petras’s back pocket the entire game.

It just took around 54 minutes of game time for the Nittany Lions to run a defense that didn’t blitz — giving Petras enough time to connect with Ragaini halfway down the field.

“That play is extremely, extremely important that we weren’t getting blitzed,” Petras said. “So, they were blitzing us … 80 percent of the time, so it was kind of waiting for the right time to call [the play.] So, we knew we weren’t getting blitzed, so, you know, we went forward to run the play. And then Nico ran a — you guys will see him on film — that was a crazy good route, really awesome.”

After a shaky first quarter against the Nittany Lions Saturday afternoon, the Hawkeye offense settled in. Iowa only accumulated 49 yards of total offense in the first quarter, settling for a field goal off a drive that saw the Hawkeyes lose eight yards.

But Iowa ended with 305 total offensive yards, compared to Penn State’s 287. The Hawkeyes edged the Nittany Lions in both rushing yards (110 to 107) and passing yards (195 to 180).

Petras started the game 1-of-9 passing, but finished 17-of-31 for 195 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

“You can move the ball, and you’ve got to have it when it counts,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And today, [Penn State] made it really hard on us, especially on the ground game. At some point, [the offense has] to step up and do something. And it was a great play call, great execution. But there’s some really good things going on that maybe weren’t as dramatic, that was good to see in that second half.”