BROOKINGS, S.D. — Northern Iowa’s 19th playoff appearance came to an end Saturday in a 37-22 loss to South Dakota State.
It was a reversal of fortune for the Jackrabbits, who dropped a 38-18 decision to the Panthers back on Oct. 14.
But that loss and the motivation to be better that it sparked propelled SDSU to a five-game win streak to close the season and a No. 5 seed in the playoffs. That win also propelled UNI to a 6-1 finish and into the playoffs.
But the Panthers knew no bye would be coming their way with a 7-4 record, while the Jacks, with their seed, got one.
Both coaches said that played a role in SDSU avenging the regular-season loss.
“The bye week off helped, no question,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “They had the extra week. They did a good job on the things we did last time, they had answers (this time).
“It wasn’t new (what they did), it was the right thing to do with what they saw the last two weeks. The extra week was definitely a big difference in this deal.”
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier didn’t hide the fact that the Jacks expected UNI to beat Monmouth in its playoff opener and prepared that way.
“I want to give some credit to our assistant coaches who had two weeks and refined the game plan that was executed very well,” Stiegelmeier said.
SDSU planned during the off week for everything the Panthers could possibly throw at them from odd defensive fronts that confused the Jacks the first time to another plan to slow down UNI’s top receiver, Daurice Fountain, who was held to three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
And SDSU had yet another plan for Marcus Weymiller and UNI’s wildcat offense. Weymiller ran 42 times for 170 yards and two scores in the first game, but had just 13 carries for 59 yards in the rematch.
“As coaches, we prepared for Northern Iowa during the bye week,” Stiegelmeier said. “We didn’t give our players any game plan, they didn’t get a game plan until Monday night. But, again, it had been refined and thought through.
“No more went into it, but it just became better. I think that helped us, so I agree, the bye helped us out.”
In addition to the final score, SDSU won several other on-field battles with UNI, including time of possession (35:43 to 24:17). The Panthers held the ball for more than 40 minutes in the first meeting. wwThe Jacks also took advantage of an occasionally undisciplined UNI, seeing at least two drives extended by penalties and four first downs altogether from Panther defensive penalties. SDSU also rushed for 169 yards after being held to 52 in the first meeting.