Seniors Render, Reynolds help Hawkeye rushing attack pound Cornhuskers
IOWA CITY, Ia. – It was Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, and 14 Hawkeyes jogged onto the field in alphabetical order to hug their parents and soak in an ovation from the crowd.
That meant the last two out were center Keegan Render and left guard Ross Reynolds. They’ve anchored the interior of the Iowa offensive line all season.
They saved their best blasts for last.
Iowa ran for a season-high 266 yards and played keepaway from the Nebraska defense for most of the game in a 31-28 victory. The Hawkeyes’ first three touchdown drives covered, 11, 13 and then 15 plays.
Iowa held the ball for 21 minutes in the first half.
And when the Hawkeyes got the ball back at their 36-yard line with 3 minutes, 22 seconds left, needing a field goal to win, there was no doubt what they would do.
“That’s the classic Iowa drives,” Render said of the earlier touchdowns. “The thing about going (that) many plays is you really know you’re getting some consistency. Obviously, it’s nice to go out there and score in one or two plays, but you don’t know how you’re really playing. Putting those long drives together gave us confidence that, ‘Hey, if we need to grind out a drive, we’re going to be able to grind out a drive.’”
That’s what the Hawkeyes did when it mattered most.
Iowa ran the ball on six of its eight plays to move 41 yards into field-goal range. Senior Miguel Recinos capped the victory with a clutch kick.
Render, Reynolds and company kickstarted the whole thing, though. From the beginning through the end.
“It’s nice for (offensive coordinator) Brian (Ferentz) to know, ‘We’ve got plenty of time to run the ball and we can trust our offensive line.’ It’s nice to go out there and be two-dimensional, not being stuck with, ‘Hey, we’re not running the ball well. They know we’re going to pass it,’” Render said. “I think it was just the epitome of the day.”
Iowa carried the ball 45 times and averaged 5.9 yards each time it did. Sophomore Mekhi Sargent piled up a career-high 173 yards on the ground, with one touchdown and a long gain of 32 yards. He was the workhorse on the Hawkeyes’ final drive.
Toren Young added 83 yards rushing and another touchdown. The two running backs only lost yards on two carries. They were always moving forward.
Right behind Render and Reynolds, who came onto the field one after another, then played side-by-side in the best performance of the season.
Reynolds, a Waukee native, got a little emotional heading to his final game at Kinnick Stadium. There were tears when he was introduced to the crowd, the last senior out of the tunnel. He said he took some time to look around when it was just he and Render, an Indianola native, waiting their turn. It’s something he doesn’t have time to do once the games start.
“I wasn’t expecting it. But it kind of hits you,” Reynolds said.
Soon, he was doing the hitting. That felt more natural. Iowa’s biggest advantage was its strength up front, and the Hawkeyes made the most of it.
“It’s awesome,” Reynolds said. “Everybody’s out there pushing and fighting.”
The Hawkeyes hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher this season until Sargent achieved the feat last Saturday at Illinois. Sargent did it again against a Cornhuskers defensive front that was constantly moving backward, sliding sideways, grasping at air and gasping for air.
Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley was never sacked, operating out of the cleanest of pockets to throw for two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The consistency that they have on every single play, every single drive, allows for the running backs to get into a rhythm and make some big runs,” Stanley said.
“It allows me to sit back there, have a lot of time and be able to make plays. It’s huge to have those veteran guys up on the line of scrimmage to lead everybody in the right direction.”
On Friday, that direction was forward. Relentlessly.
It was just a pair of Iowa natives bidding farewell to their home stadium in the most Iowa way possible. By tightening their chin straps and loosening up the soft middle of Nebraska’s defensive line.
Render celebrated his 23rd birthday Friday. It was his Golden Birthday. He had no big plans, though. He figured the victory was his gift.
“Once the national anthem started playing, I let it soak in and let the tears flow a little bit. It’s something that happens once in a lifetime,” Render said.
“I’ve been through a lot of emotions and it’s only 3 o’clock. There’s a lot of day left.”
It must have seemed like time was running short for the Cornhuskers on Friday. Render and Reynolds helped make sure of that.