IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa was just under a quarter away from a win that would help ease the sting of a somewhat underwhelming season.
The Hawkeyes blew it, exacerbating the frustration of a year that failed to live up to expectations.
Kenny Bell caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in overtime and Nebraska rallied to beat Iowa 37-34 on Friday, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Iowa finished 7-5 and 4-4 in the Big Ten. But the Hawkeyes had six wins over FBS opponents — and none of them are currently above .500.
They wound up finishing fourth in the Big Ten West, a division many thought it could win this season.
"We lost five ballgames. Each one is a different story," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "There's no way to predict this stuff in August, how it's going to go."
Tommy Armstrong Jr. had four TD passes for the Cornhuskers (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten), who trailed by as many as 17 points before storming back in the second half.
Nebraska tied the school record for the largest road comeback.
Jordan Canzeri caught a 5-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 left in regulation to put Iowa ahead 31-28. But Drew Brown's 20-yard field goal with 8 seconds left forced overtime.
Armstrong threw TD passes to Taariq Allen and Bell, and De'Mornay Pierson-El's 80-yard punt return for a touchdown put Nebraska ahead 28-24 with 12:06 left in the fourth.
Jake Rudock had 230 yards and two TD passes for Iowa. The Hawkeyes closed the regular season with back-to-back home losses to rivals Wisconsin and Nebraska by just five points.
"All I know is we came up short last week, we came up short (Friday), against two teams I think are pretty good teams," Ferentz said.
But Iowa seemed poised to blow out the Huskers early in the second half, jumping ahead 24-7.
It reality, the game was just getting interesting.
Nebraska responded behind Armstrong, who brought the Huskers back within 24-21 on a 34-yard TD pass to Allen and a 32-yarder to Bell early in the fourth quarter.
Pierson-El had been stopped by Iowa punter Dillon Kidd on his previous return. But he blew past Kidd and the rest of the Hawkeyes to give Nebraska the improbable lead with three TDs in less than 5 minutes.
"Yeah, we had a plan. It didn't exactly work the way we hoped. And then you've got to get down there and cover, too. You've got to disrupt him, can't let him get started upfield, which on those two he got a quick start and got going," Ferentz said.
Rudock answered right back though, finding Canzeri alone in the flat for the touchdown. Armstrong wasn't done either, finding Brandon Reilly for a crucial 35-yard completion to set up the game-tying kick.
Marshall Koehn hit a 25-yard field goal in overtime, briefly giving Iowa a 34-31 lead.
Bell's catch was reviewed, but the call on the field was upheld.
Ameer Abdullah had 106 yards rushing and Bell caught two TD passes for Nebraska.
The Hawkeyes dominated the first half, and John Lowdermilk took an interception back 17 yards for a touchdown. But they only led 10-7, largely because of four turnovers.
But Rudock caught Nebraska in a cornerback blitz early in the third quarter and hit Tevaun Smith, who raced 37 yards to put the Hawkeyes up 17-7.
Nebraska punter Sam Foltz then dropped a snap. He recovered in time to get the punt off, but it ricocheted off lineman Zach Hannon's back. Drew Ott happily scooped up the loose ball, giving Iowa a 24-7 point lead with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
But the Hawkeyes couldn't hold the lead.
Mark Weisman had 82 yards rushing for Iowa.
"I've really felt like since 2001, just in broad, sweeping statements, for the most part we're going to have an opportunity to compete for the championship. That's our goal. We're not going to back down from that. That would be ridiculous. But I think as we all know, there are twists and turns that go on in any season," Ferentz said.
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