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FCS football playoffs; Northern Iowa advances in FCS playoffs with 29-17 over Portland State

FCS football playoffs; Northern Iowa advances in FCS playoffs with 29-17 over Portland State


PORTLAND, Ore. | Boom. Boom. Boom.

The rain never stopped at Providence Park and that was just fine with Northern Iowa who kept on acting like lightning.

Scoring on runs of 61, 69 and 59 as part of a 401-yard day on the ground, the 15th-ranked Panthers advanced to the FCS playoff quarterfinals for the 13th time with a 29-17 victory over No. 5 Portland State Saturday in a second-round playoff game.

"Proud of our football team," UNI head coach Mark Farley said. "I think that was an excellent football team. A tough football team. We are pretty happy to come out on top."

Despite losing center Robert Rathje in the first half to a left ankle injury, UNI's rush game never slowed down as Aaron Bailey rushed for 200 yards on 21 carries and two scores, and Tyvis Smith had 207 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.

UNI (9-4) rushed for 203 yards in the first half, and 198 in the second.  Bailey's touchdown runs were of 61 and 69, while Smith scored on runs of 3 and 59.

"Aaron has just developed into a great QB," Farley said. "Tyvis is such a big strong running back. WHen you put two guys in the backfield like that it is just hard to defend. I would not want to defend it.

"You've got size. You've got speed and you got the ability to break the tackle and yet you still have the speed to break away."

Despite dominating the first half as UNI held a 16-3 halftime lead and had held the Vikings (9-3) to 90 total yards, the Panthers never really could feel comfortable.

Much of that was because of the magic of PSU quarterback Alex Kuresa who had practically willed the Vikings into the playoffs.

Time and time again, Kuresa wiggled out of sack situations to move the chains and when he did just that midway through the third quarter and hit Chase Loftin for a 16-yard touchdown pass that made it 16-10, the momentum seemed to gravitate to PSU's sideline.

"We told our guys if we can keep him in the pocket we can win the game," Farley said. "If he gets out, he is going to cause problems, and when he did get out he moved the chains."

Kuresa's playmaking kept the Vikings in the game, but the pressure eventually got to him as he threw two second-half interceptions in Panther territory, the second with 5 minutes and 54 seconds left, by Brett McMakin.

"In the Valley we play some quarterbacks that can run and throw like that," said Isaac Ales, normally a defensive end, who replaced the injured Adam Reth at defensive tackle. "It just seemed like he was hard to get, slippery I guess. One of the toughest we've ever faced."

With the game still in balance and UNI struggling offensively, the Panthers four third-quarter possessions netted zero first downs, Bailey struck on UNI's first play of the fourth quarter, sprinting 69-yards on a read-option to make it 23-10 with 14:33 to go.

"That was huge," Farley said of Bailey's run that made it 23-10. "You felt the momentum swing probably three or four times in that second half. They started getting more momentum, scored on us and the crowd was getting into it.

"At that time it is when Aaron broke out and that gave our guys momentum back, particularly on defense. That gave us life when we needed it big time."

PSU refused to go away, however, and Kuresa drove the Vikings 73 yards in seven plays as David Jones scored on a 9-yard run to make it 23-17 with 12:11 to go. Then PSU forced a quick three and out by UNI, only to see Karter Schult register a huge third-down sack to force the Vikings to punt the ball back to UNI.

It took all of 10 seconds for UNI to score as Smith struck with the knockout blow, breaking free for a 59-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left. Shortly after McMakin made his big play and the Panthers were dancing onto the quarterfinals.

"It gave us momentum for the defense," Smith said of the big plays. "We fire off the defense and the defense fires off us.

"It is great. This farthest I've ever been in my career," added Smith of advancing on.

Jared Farley led UNI with 12 tackles and had one of UNI's two interceptions. McMakin followed with 10 tackles, two for loss and a sack to go along with his pick. And Ales had eight tackles, two for loss. 

The Panthers held PSU below its season averages in rushing and total yards, allowing just 285. The Vikings had been held under 300 yards just once previous and the 285 was a season low. 

UNI advances to play North Dakota State next Saturday at the FargoDome in a 11 a.m. (Central) kickoff in a game that will air on ESPN.

"We are going to enjoy this one," Farley said. "We are going to take a nice plane ride home. We have a nice day tomorrow and then we will get ready for another trip up north.

"We know it is a process."


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Sports Reporter

I’m a Waterloo native who has covered Cedar Valley sports for more than 30 years for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. I’m also a big Cincinnati Reds fan … Go Big Red Machine!

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