LINCOLN, Neb. – Noah Fant wanted Friday to be just another game.
Taking the field for the first time against Nebraska in his home state, things didn’t turn out that way for the Iowa tight end from nearby Omaha.
Fant caught a pair of touchdown passes, the first on a 4-yard play to tie the game at 14-14 just 25 seconds before halftime and the second on a Nate Stanley pass that Fant turned into a 68-yard strike to cap a 28-point third quarter in the Hawkeyes’ 56-14 rout.
“It felt good to come out and play well as a team and do some good things on offense,’’ Fant said. “We needed a game like this. After the last two weeks, we needed a good football game.’’
Fant helped create that, catching three passes for 116 yards including a 44-yard catch which helped set up a 12-yard touchdown run by James Butler for Iowa’s second score in a deciding third quarter which fueled an early exodus from the Memorial Stadium stands which had been filled by 90.046 fans on a 75-degree November day.
“Noah played a great game,’’ Stanley said. “He does everything that our tight ends are supposed to do and to come home and play well, I know that probably means a lot to him.’’
Fant conceded that he took more than a few hits on social media from Cornhuskers fans unhappy when he chose to leave the state to join an Iowa program known for its development of players at the position he plays.
“I knew part of it would be coming here twice in my career,’’ Fant said. “I grew up watching Nebraska play and some people weren’t very happy when I decided to go to Iowa. I didn’t want that to be a distraction this week. I wanted this to be just another game.’’
For the most part, he was able to make that happen.
Fant did draw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct when he did a splash dive into the end zone after he broke free down a sideline for his 68-yard score.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen,’’ Fant said. “I’m just glad it didn’t hurt the team.’’
Fant had already caught more touchdown passes in a single season than any tight end in Hawkeye history before he stepped on the field Friday. He now has a team-leading 10 touchdown catches, four more than the previous tight end-best of six set by Marv Cook and the most by any Iowa player since Marvin McNutt caught 12 in 2012.
He credits Stanley, now just two touchdown passes shy of Iowa’s single-season record of 27, for making that happen.
“Nate does a good job of putting me in a position to do some good things with the football,’’ Fant said. “He throws a good ball, puts it right where it’s supposed to be.’’