Iowa Hawkeyes outlast Iowa State Cyclones, thanks to their New Jersey duo

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

AMES, Ia. — Time after time, Akrum Wadley told reporters Saturday: “We’re Jersey guys.”

As if that said it all. As if the pulse-quickening, throat-tightening, come-from-behind, overtime 44-41 Iowa victory over Iowa State was primarily a matter of where two Hawkeye stars were born.

“He went out there and played like a big dog,” Wadley barked, speaking of the newest entry in Hawkeye lore, true freshman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette.

“He’s from New Jersey and he’s very resilient. Last week, he fumbled the ball. He took a step back. Now, this week, he took about five steps forward.”


Iowa's Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) catches a pass in the end zone during the overtime of the Cy-Hawk football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Ames. The catch won the game for the Hawkeyes 44-41.

The fact that Smith-Marsette was in position to catch the winning touchdown pass Saturday, on a 5-yard dart from quarterback Nate Stanley in the first overtime, was never a given. Not after his first career carry in the Sept. 2 season-opener against Wyoming resulted in a fumble and no more snaps that day.

But there Smith-Marsette was, in Iowa’s starting lineup before a madhouse crowd of 61,500 at Jack Trice Stadium. And there he was at the end, beneath a pile of grateful teammates in the stadium’s south end zone, the last player to touch the ball in a Cy-Hawk classic.

“It probably goes back to the first time we met him,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of his willingness to go right back to his rookie receiver. “There’s something about Ihmir. He’s got a little spirit to him that we really like. Intuitions aren’t always right, but sometimes you just feel like a guy has a football mentality. He certainly has that. He’s got a little spunk to him, a little personality.

“He seemed like the kind of guy who could shake that off.”

Iowa (2-0) won its third consecutive game in this rivalry, and its third straight here, because of Ferentz’s hunch and Smith-Marsette’s moxie. The 6-foot-2, 175-pound speedster out of Newark, N.J., turned 18 just two weeks ago. He grew up Saturday, running once for seven yards, catching four passes for 36, and scoring the first two touchdowns of his career.

“Ihmir is a strong-minded guy,” said Wadley, a senior who attended the same Weequahic High School as Smith-Marsette. “I told him, ‘Yo, the coaches are going to come back to you. … Be ready. This time, it’s over if you fumble the ball.’ He said, ‘Hey, that don’t faze me.’”

Smith-Marsette and Wadley scored Iowa’s final three touchdowns to complete a rally from 31-21 down. With 6:25 left in regulation, Smith-Marsette made a beeline for the back of the end zone, beating his man and laying out to cradle a 15-yard throw from Stanley. That cut the deficit to 31-28.

“He read the coverage correctly and ran a great route. I had missed him earlier in the game and I knew, on this one, all I had to do was just put it on the back line and that he could make a play,” Stanley said. “He went out and made a heck of a play.”

Wadley topped it 5 minutes later, with Iowa trailing 38-31 on the Cyclones' 46-yard line. Stanley dropped back to survey the field and found no one to throw to. Wadley angled out of the backfield, running toward his own sideline, grabbed a short pass and had enough yardage for a first down. The logical move would have been to step out of bounds at that point, since the Hawkeyes were out of timeouts.

Wadley wasn’t interested in playing it safe. He turned upfield, plowed through a cornerback and kept running — all the way to the end zone — for the score that forced overtime.

“They had me bracketed outside, so I had inside release. Stanley was looking downfield, but nobody was open,” Wadley said. “So I had to step on the linebacker. He dumped it down to me, and that was murder.”

Wadley said he didn’t ease up and merely stop the clock because he noticed his teammates were getting fatigued.

“It’s just got to happen. I wasn’t stepping out of bounds. I was trying to score,” he said.

Wadley gained 118 yards on a career-high 28 carries, the fourth consecutive game he’s surpassed the century mark. He caught four passes for 72 yards, including the touchdown that was his longest career reception.

Then he held court, in his jovial manner.

“The feeling in the locker room is just relief,” Wadley said. “Hats off to Iowa State; they played a really good game. It wasn’t like last year (a 42-3 Iowa win). They played like warriors.”

Iowa does not allow true freshmen to speak to the media. But Smith-Marsette told the university’s sports information officials: “Last week, I had a minor setback, but this week I came back and they showed they believed in me and I took advantage of it.”

You can bet he had much more to say than that. He’s a Jersey guy in the Wadley mode, after all.

“People call him ‘Smiley.’ He’s a pretty positive guy, always laughing or smiling,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said of Smith-Marsette. “And he’s a great player. He’s going to become a better player every week, kind of like that Stanley guy.”

Stanley said Wadley and Smith-Marsette share more than just a hometown.

“They’re both great athletes. They’re both super fast. Both can make people miss in the open field,” Stanley said.

He gave a slight smile when asked if both are also vocal.

“I haven’t really heard any of it, but I’m sure that our defensive players might be able to talk a little more about that,” Stanley said.

Iowa State’s defensive players, too. Wadley and Smith-Marsette got the last words Saturday.

With a Jersey accent.