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Throwing to tight end makes a comeback for Hawkeyes

Rick Brown
ribrown@dmreg.com
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end Ray Hamilton (82) catches a touchdown pass in the second quarter of the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Ray Hamilton was snaking his way from the locker room to the team bus Saturday afternoon when he passed Iowa teammate John Lowdermilk.

"He thinks he's the man because he had two touchdowns," joked Lowdermilk, Iowa's starting strong safety.

Hamilton looked over his shoulder and smiled after a day he won't soon forget. The senior tight end from Hamilton, Ohio, had touchdown catches of 1 and 6 yards in the Hawkeyes' 30-14 victory over Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. They were the first touchdowns of his college career.

GAMEDAY GALLERY:Iowa at Illinois football

The first one gave Iowa a 9-7 lead in the second quarter. The secondgave the Hawkeyes a 16-7 advantage in the third quarter. Hamilton became the first Iowa tight end to have two receiving touchdowns in a single game since Tony Moeaki against Michigan in 2009.

"It felt good," Hamilton, a high school teammate of Iowa basketball standout Aaron White, said of his first career score. "It felt better to put the team ahead, 9-7. I was thinking, 'Let's get this thing rolling.' "

Jake Duzey #87 of the Iowa Hawkeyes makes a reception as Eaton Spence #27 of the Illinois Fighting Illini pursues at Memorial Stadium on November 15, 2014 in Champaign, Illinois. Iowa defeated Illinois 30-14.

Hamilton finished with a team-high four catches on the day, for 20 yards. And the tight ends were a significant part of Iowa's offensive game plan. Junior Jake Duzey had three catches for 110 yards — the highest single-game yardage total by an Iowa player this season.

"They called our number, and we were ready to go," said Duzey, the one who had the 85-yard touchdown catch in a 34-24 loss at Ohio State last season.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was unaware that it was Hamilton's first collegiate trips to the end zone until he was told that during his postgame radio show.

"And two, to top it off," Ferentz said. "Ray's a team guy, an energy guy. He's got a great personality. Tight end is not a real flashy position typically."

It looked like Hamilton was in position for a third touchdown grab in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Jake Rudock used him and a blocking shield on his 6-yard scoring run instead.

"Once he gave me the point, I knew what to do," said Hamilton, who went from receiver to blocker after Rudock's signal. "I'm just happy he got it."

Iowa tight ends had no catches against Minnesota last week. Against Northwestern the week before that, Hamilton had the only catch by a tight end. Saturday at Illinois, it was a different story.

"I thought we played well as a group," Hamilton said. "We had a good week of practice, and that's where it all started."