Grace Smith

Iowa fans storm the field after 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.

Point/Counterpoint | What’s your favorite moment from the Iowa football season?

DI Pregame Editor Robert Read and Sports Editor Austin Hanson debate what moment stands out above all else from the 2021 season.

December 14, 2021

The stadium swarm at Kinnick

Iowa’s 23-20 win over Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Oct. 9 in what was, at the time, a matchup between top-five teams is undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments in Hawkeye football history. It most certainly is the highlight of the 2021 season for the Hawkeyes.

It was Iowa’s first top-five matchup at Kinnick in 36 years. The atmosphere was so intense that Penn State was called for back-to-back-to-back false start penalties. The rowdy environment was so impressive that it helped eventually sway five-star safety Xavier Nwankpa to commit to Iowa. Oh, and then there was the game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Spencer Petras to wide receiver Nico Ragaini. Fans were just waiting for Iowa to hold onto the win from that moment on so they could spill onto the field.

The field storming that night was surreal. It’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever been in for a sporting event, for whatever that’s worth. The implications of that entire game were surreal, too.

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson hurdles MTSU’s Gregory Grate, Jr. during a football game between Iowa and Middle Tennessee State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 28, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Blue Raiders, 48-3. (Shivansh Ahuja)

Iowa just moved to 6-0 on the season (and No. 2 in the country) after beating a team everyone seemed to think could be College Football Playoff bound. Everything seemed so possible for the Hawkeyes at that point. Quick trigger warning, Hawkeye fans: I’m about to mention a game that included Purdue wide receiver David Bell.

A week after this game, Iowa’s perfect season ended. The Hawkeyes lost to Purdue for the start of their two-game losing stretch. And yes, Iowa still won 10 games this season and represented the Big Ten West in the conference championship game. But after beating Penn State, even more than that seemed possible.

Between the stakes of the game, the celebration, and the surrealness of the whole situation, Iowa’s win over Penn State stands out above all else from the 2021 season. Not that there was any doubt about that.

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Henry Marchese’s blocked punt

Who knew a single special teamer could save a season? Perhaps only Iowa special teams coach LeVar Woods and one of his aces Henry Marchese.

With 14:22 remaining in the fourth quarter of its annual Heroes Game against Nebraska, Iowa trailed, 21-9. On the day, the Hawkeyes had been limited to just three field goals, offensively.

Then, Marchese blocked a punt off the foot of the Cornhuskers’ William Przystup. After Marchese made contact with the ball, it soared through the air and right into the hands of Hawkeye sophomore Kyler Fisher. Once Fisher had the ball in his hands, he raced into the end zone for a touchdown.

The special teams score gave the Hawkeyes an avalanche of momentum that the Cornhuskers couldn’t halt. Iowa won the game, 28-21, and retained possession of the Heroes Trophy for the seventh consecutive season.

Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones runs the ball down the field for a touchdown after a kick return during a football game between No. 17 Iowa and Illinois at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Jones’ longest return was for 10 yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Fighting Illini 33-23 at the last home game of the season. (Grace Smith)

The blocked field goal ultimately started a run that propelled Iowa to the Big Ten Championship Game. Had Marchese never started Iowa’s late-game scoring rally against Nebraska, the Hawkeyes never would’ve made the Big Ten Championship Game.

Yes, Iowa got blown out in the Big Ten Championship, but the win against Nebraska helped push the Hawkeyes to their first outright Big Ten West Division title and conference championship game appearance since 2015.

Even if the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis wasn’t fruitful for the Hawkeyes, it was still quite an achievement for a program that doesn’t get an opportunity to play for a league championship very often.

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