OGDEN, Utah — Northern Iowa was climbing uphill almost from the start.
It felt more like scaling a mountain for the Panthers.
Fifth-ranked Weber State hit ninth-ranked UNI hard early with a big play, built a huge first-half lead and rolled to a 29-17 victory Saturday in an FCS Top 10 showdown at Stewart Stadium.
"Kind of like last week with some of the bad things from the very first snap," offensive guard Jackson Scott-Brown said. "It comes down to us.The coaches can't get on us anymore."
"We did not come out in the first quarter for whatever reason," UNI head coach Mark Farley added. "It put us in the bad spot."
Back-up quarterback Kaden Jenks passed for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Wildcats (2-2) led 17-0 in the first quarter and 27-10 at halftime.
UNI (2-2) actually got off to a good start as Will McElvain hit an 11-yard pass to Isaiah Weston and a nine-yard completion for a second first down on the Panthers’ opening possession.
The drive stalled and after a Zac Kibby punt, things quickly spiraled out of control for UNI.
On Weber State’s first play from scrimmage, two defenders played a receiver in the flat, allowing Rashid Shaheed to spring open down the seam as he scored on a 73-yard pass from Jenks and it was 7-0 2 minutes, 55 seconds into the game.
It got worse.
Deion McShane fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Weber State made it 10-0 on a Trey Tuttle field goal.
It got even worse.
On a third-and-six play on UNI’s next possession, McElvain had Jaylin James running wide open over the middle, but his pass was tipped by a linebacker and intercepted by Brody Burke.
Set up at the Panther 38, Weber State quickly moved down the field with Krie Jackson scoring on a third-and-goal from the 2 and it was 17-0 with 5:43 left in the first quarter.
"We just did not ... the opening kickoff, the first play on defense and the next kickoff there were so many tragic errors," Farley said. "It was such a bad start and then you had to calm them back down to get them to play at the level they played in the second half."
A McElvain 42-yard run set up a Matthew Cook 35-yard field goal, his ninth straight successful attempt to open the season, but it was 20-3 after one.
UNI played much better over the final three quarters, but not well enough.
It was 27-3 when McElvain hit Isaiah Weston on a 37-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 left in the half. It was the third consecutive game Weston has had a touchdown reception.
UNI actually dominated the second half, holding Weber State to just one net yard.
But Wildcats punter Doug Lloyd continually buried UNI with tremendous punts, pinning the Panthers at their own 2 twice and the 5 once in the third and fourth quarters, and Weber State’s defense made two huge stops on fourth-down plays.
Lloyd had five punts that were down inside the UNI 20, including a 72-yarder in the third quarter that flipped the field on the Panthers.
"Their punter did such a good job in the second half, he kept us starting on the one-yard line all the time," Farley said.
After UNI held WSU to a three-and-out on its first possession of the third quarter, the Panthers drove all the way to the Wildcat 29. It appeared UNI picked up a fourth-and-one for a first down, but just before the play the officials blew it dead to review a third-down spot. The call stood, but on the next fourth-down play, Tyler Hoosman was hit in the backfield and stuffed for a loss.
"Suppossedly, they blew the whistle before the play starter," Scott-Brown said. "I never heard a whistle. Nobody on the offensive line heard a whistle. But supposedly there was a whistle and that kind of took the air out of our tires.
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"Then, they came out on the next play and got lower than us."
Weber State stopped another fourth-and-short early in the fourth quarter as the Panthers could never get a comeback attempt going.
McElvain hit James for a two-yard touchdown pass with 4:04 left to close the gap, but it was too little, too late.
McElvain finished with 105 rushing yards and was 16 of 29 for 219 yards.
Weston led the team with four catches for 84 yards, but left in the fourth quarter, heading straight to the lockerroom after a hard hit.
Defensively, UNI held the Wildcats to 116 yards over the final three quarters and the only points Weber State scored in the second half came on a bad snap that sailed over McElvain’s head and out of the back of the end zone for a safety.
UNI outgained WSU, 384-285, and rushed for 165 yards.
Weber State 29, UNI 17
Northern Iowa 3 7 0 7 — 17
Weber State 20 7 2 0 — 29
WSU — Shaheed 73 pass from Jenks (Tuttle kick), 12:05. (Drive: 1 play, 73 yards, :10).
WSU — FG Tuttle 25, 9:58. (Drive: 4 plays, 7 yards, 2:02).
WSU — Jackson 2 run (Tuttle kick), 5:43. (Drive: 8 plays 38 yards, 2:51).
UNI — FG Cook 35, 3:27. (Drive: 6 plays, 58 yards, 2:16).
WSU — FG Tuttle 41, :48. (Drive: 9 plays, 51 yards, 2:39).
WSU — Malone 13 pass from Jenks (Tuttle kick), 8:30. (Drive: 12 plays, 67 yards, 6:19).
UNI — Weston 37 pass from McElvain (Cook kick), 1:35. (Drive: 6 plays, 81 yards, 2:16).
WSU — Safety, UNI snaps ball out of end zone, 3:08.
UNI — James 2 pass from from McElvain (Cook kick), 4 04. (Drive: 13 plays, 95 yards, 6:12).