CEDAR FALLS — Early last week before No. 14 Northern Iowa’s game with South Dakota Saturday, Panther head coach Mark Farley was concerned.
Farley did not know what kind of response his team would have after losing badly at North Dakota State the week before.
But in the two days before the game with the Coyotes, Farley admitted his outlook began to turn positive and he said as much following UNI’s 42-27 win over USD inside the UNI-Dome that improved the Panthers to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
“It was a long week, a hard week,” Farley said. “I thought the players handled it well and the coaches did an excellent job. These last (days) — Thursday, Friday and Saturday — we came into sync, got a little more focused.”
The victory improved UNI to 4-0 inside the UNI-Dome and it came despite losing several statistical battles with the Coyotes.
USD registered 27 first downs to 11 for the Panthers, ran 91 plays compared to 45 for UNI and held a nearly 11-minute advantage in time of possession, 35:29 to 24:31.
But the Panthers won the turnover battle, forcing six Coyote turnovers — three interceptions and three lost fumbles — and the offense was explosive all game long registering seven plays of 25 yards or better and four plays of 50-plus yards.
Many of those big plays came early with UNI’s defense struggling to contain elusive USD quarterback Austin Simmons and the Coyotes’ up-tempo offense that scored 21 first-quarter points.
“Credit the offense because those big plays kept us in it until we kind of got phase (struggling defensively) and got into our kind of football,” Farley said.
Farley added he was pleased with how the defense recovered from the slow start and played really good defense over the final three.
UNI had several defensive superlatives in the game as linebacker Chris Kolarevic recorded a career-best 19 tackles. Freshman Caden Houghtelling recorded his first career sack as part of a five sack, 10 tackle for loss performance by the defense.
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Additionally, seniors Christian Jegen and Roosevelt Lawrence each recorded their first career interceptions.
But Farley once again went back to the offense and UNI’s improving rush game as the Panthers went for 205, including 111 and two touchdowns on 24 carries by sophomore Tyler Hoosman.
The 205 rushing yards was a season-high and only fifth time in the last three seasons the Panthers have gone over 200 rushing yards.
UNI had four rushes for 25 or better with Hoosman breaking off runs of 26 and 28 as part of a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive where he rushed six times for 74. Wide receiver Aaron Graham took an end-around for a 38-yard gain and quarterback Will McElvain scrambled for 70-yard gain when he couldn’t find anyone open downfield.
“We knew our run-game has been sluggish and we emphasized that a lot this week,” Hoosman said. “(Focused on) getting back to fundamentals and assignments and what not and running hard and getting as many yards as you can while running the ball.”
MVFC HONORS: Wide receiver Isaiah Weston and Kolarevic were named Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week by the MVFC for their performances against the Coyotes.
Weston racked up a career-high 189 receiving yards while tying a UNI-Dome record with three touchdown receptions. After the huge game, Weston now ranks first in the MVFC and second in the FCS with his 25.89 yards per reception average.
Kolarevic’s 19 tackles were the most by a defender in the MVFC this season and one shy of a single-game high in the FCS. Kolarevic also recorded a sack and a pass break-up in the game.
NEXT UP: Saturday, Missouri State (1-5 overall, 1-2 MVFC), 2 p.m., Plaster Field (Springfield, Mo.)
The Panthers have won 13 straight in series with Bears.