By SCOTT JACKSON Courier sports writer
---- — IOWA CITY — From the opening kickoff, it just felt like a special day was in store for Iowa Hawkeye fans at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday.
Kevonte Martin-Manley and B.J. Lowry made sure those fans didn’t go home disappointed.
Martin-Manley became only the third player in Big Ten history to return two punt returns for touchdowns while Lowry also set a school record with two interceptions returned for touchdowns. Those were just half of the eight touchdowns put up by Iowa in the highest scoring game in five years as the Hawkeyes routed Western Michigan 59-3 Saturday afternoon in quite a final tune-up before Big Ten play begins next week.
“That’s big. I’m truly humbled by it.” Martin-Manley, the Big Ten’s Special Teams Player of the Week, said about being the first Iowa player to ever return two punts for touchdowns in the same game. “I’m really fortunate to even be in that situation to make plays like that. I think my teammates and the coaches to even be able to make big plays like that.”
It’s the most points Iowa has scored in 11 years dating back to a 62-3 rout of Northwestern and the first time a Hawkeye team has broken 50 points since a 55-0 shutout at Minnesota back in 2008. Fittingly, Iowa will head back to Minneapolis Saturday to defend the Floyd of Rosedale and open conference play against the Golden Gophers at 2:30 p.m.
“We start again new (starting Sunday), Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa’s most lopsided home win since a 56-0 shutout of Ball State in 2005. “We haven’t done much up there in Minneapolis in a couple years, so we’ll have a big challenge on our hands.”
It’s also fitting that the Hawkeyes cracked the 50-point barrier for the first time since the 2008 season. That was also the last season that an Iowa player, Andy Brodell, returned a punt for a touchdown when the former Ankeny standout raced down the Iowa sideline for a score at Kinnick in a ‘CyHawk’ win over Iowa State.
That was until the early stages of the second quarter on Saturday, when Martin-Manley took J. Schroeder’s 43-yard punt at his own 17 and found an opening down the same Iowa sidelines. Going into the opposite end zone, Martin-Manley ended the five-year punt return drought by breaking away from Bronco tacklers for an 83-yard runback that made the score 17-0 just 15 seconds into the second quarter.
“All week long watching film we knew we’d be able to make plays on punt returns,” Martin-Manley said. “Right from the jump, even from the first one, I knew I’d be able to make plays on punt returns all day.”
Martin-Manley wouldn’t have to wait long to make Iowa football history as Iowa’s defense forced a fifth straight three-and-out. A line drive punt by Schroeder opened the door for an easier return, allowing Martin-Manley to again dash through the Western Michigan return defense for a 63-yard punt return score that sent Kinnick Stadium into a frenzy as the Hawkeye junior joined Wisconsin’s Jud Girard in 1947 and Ohio State’s Garcia Lane in 1983 as the only two other Big Ten players ever to return two punts for scores in one game.
“As soon as I knew as I was going to get into the end zone on that second return, I couldn’t believe it,” Martin-Manley said of the accomplishment. “I kind of asked myself ‘did I really just do this?’ Guys were cutting across and blocking in front of me. It was really one of the best images I’ll ever have.”
Lowry kept the lively images going at Kinnick later in an eventful second quarter. The senior defensive back picked off a third down pass from Bronco quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen and dashed in 35 yards for a score with 56 seconds left before the half to put Iowa up by five touchdowns in the opening half.
Less than three minutes into the second half, Lowry put his own name into the Iowa record books, picking off backup quarterback Zach Terrell 45-3.
“Kevonte had an impressive day. His returns were much longer than mine,” Lowry, who like Martin-Manley was also honored by the Big Ten as the conference’s defensive player of the week, said. “I’d say we both had great plays for the entire team. My adrenaline was pretty high after that second interception.”
The interception returns were the highlights of a day in which Iowa’s defense set the tone right from the start, when a jarring hit by Marcus Collins on Western Michigan’s Dareyon Chance on the game’s opening kickoff seemed to fire everyone wearing black and gold up inside Kinnick. Iowa’s defense in particular came out hitting hard and hitting often, resulting in the Broncos going without a first down for the entire first quarter while behind held to -5 yards rushing in the opening 15 minutes.
“We got off to a good fast start defensively,” Ferentz said. “I’m not sure it was every series in the first half, but it seemed like we were three-and-out, and we had really good field position as a result of that.”
“We always want to come out and set the tone like that, but we knew the opportunity was there for us to set it right from that start,” Lowry added. “Marcus coming out and making that hit set the table for us for the rest of the day.”
While half of the touchdowns on Saturday came on returns by two players, it didn’t stop the Hawkeyes from getting plenty of offense in the mix. Iowa put up a standard amount through the first four games of the year, producing 446 total yards of offense, while finding almost every single way to get to the end zone.
“To have four non-offensive touchdowns in a game, that’s pretty hard to explain,” Ferentz said. “I hope we didn’t use them all up. We haven’t had an abundance of big plays offensively or special teams-wise where we’ve reversed it and scored points, and that was great to see.”
Sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock threw two touchdown passes in the contest, including a 21-yard first-quarter strike to Jacob Hillyer and a 29-yard pass to Damond Powell to open Iowa’s lead to 52-3. Mike Weisman, who was held under 100 yards for the first time all year, joined Jordan Canzeri in scoring rushing touchdowns for the Hawkeyes, who played one of its most complete games in a while and will ride a three-game winning streak into the Big Ten opener next week against the 4-0 Golden Gophers.
“I feel like we dominated today. It was pretty good by us,” Lowry said.
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