LINCOLN, Neb. — As Iowa’s Noah Fant caught a 4-yard out route, turned upfield and noticed nothing but green grass to the end zone, one thought crossed his mind.
Outrun the defense.
So, as he approached the end zone, he did the one thing he knew to ensure no one tackled him. He dove across the goal line.
“I did it because I wanted to score,” the tight end said.
It cost him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but it was a flag well worth it. It let Fant cap his monster 116-receiving yard, 2-touchdown homecoming return in style while showing the kind of impact player he is to a stadium full of friends, family and former detractors.
“When you break it down after the game, being in front of that many people I know, being in my home state and stuff like that it’s a really cool experience,” Fant said.
Players dream of returning to their home state and playing their best game. Fant’s performance was beyond his wildest dreams. Every play he made altered the game.
- His first touchdown, a 4-yard reception on a play-action pass, tied the score at 14 just before intermission.
- His 44-yard reception on a downfield corner route set up the touchdown that helped Iowa break the game open and take a 14-point lead in the third quarter.
- His 68-yard touchdown to cap a 28-point Iowa third quarter served as an exclamation point.
Each play served as a reminder on what Nebraska missed out on. That part likely mattered just as much as Fant making the plays to ensure Iowa won.
He told his brother and Omaha South High School football coach, Chris, on his signing day Iowa would be playing in Memorial Stadium his sophomore season. For 660 days, he prepared for his day.
He wanted to show off for his friends, but also for those who provided the “pushback”, as Fant put it, when he committed to Iowa over Nebraska. On social media, Nebraska fans called him overrated and predicted his failure.
The comments continued Friday. Nebraska security workers called him expletives after his second touchdown, according to a photographer in the end zone.
“I wouldn’t say it was circled on my calendar or anything like that,” Fant said, “but I definitely knew in the back of my head I was going to have to come back to Memorial Stadium. I’m going to have to produce.”
Noah Fant pulls in TD No. ✌️ of the afternoon and No. 10 on the season: pic.twitter.com/i5ugjOaOEd
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 24, 2017
Did he ever.
“Streaking down the sidelines,” Fant said. “That is something I’ll remember for a long time.”
It’s what coach Kirk Ferentz refers to as a Kodak moment. Though, at least one teammates thought it was missing one thing to make it a memory of a lifetime.
“I wanted him to punt it,” Iowa running back Akrum Wadley said.
When the biggest critique of your day is a celebration, it’s a good game.
Fant did more than highlight his big-play ability. He showed, yet again, why the tight ends are the most important piece of Iowa’s aerial attack. When the tight ends bust loose, the passing game is at its best.
“He is a tremendous player,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “Obviously he can make explosive plays and when he does it just makes the defense respect another almost wide receiver that can go out and make plays like he can.”
Fant is a difference maker. Wadley thought the fact it didn’t happen right away frustrated Fant. He kept plugging away and before long everything opened up, and Nebraska couldn’t stop him.
“Him and the other (tight ends) like T.J. (Hockenson) and (Peter) Pekar, guys you don’t hear a lot about,” Wadley said. “They go in there and play every snap, every down, like it’s their last. That’s how you have to do it.”
They celebrate like it too.
When the final whistle sounded on Iowa’s 56-14 victory, Fant headed toward the Heroes Trophy. He screamed, “Give it to me” and carried it toward the Iowa fans who gathered in the south end zone with defensive tackle Nathan Bazata.
He led the Hawkeyes as they sang the fight song, jumping in place, a smile plastered across his face as he belted the lyrics.
Fant was going to enjoy himself and this moment he worked so hard for. It was the perfect way to cap off his perfect day.
After all, the refs couldn’t flag this celebration.