CEDAR FALLS – A humbling loss on the road could’ve sidetracked months of good work by the University of Northern Iowa football team.
The Panthers labored through a tough week of practice after a 29-17 loss at Weber State this week, but the one constant for UNI was a team motivated to show it could beat a tough opponent.
Behind another great defensive performance and an offense that was explosive at the right times, the No. 13 Panthers did just that with a 21-14 win over No. 18 Youngstown State Saturday at the UNI-Dome to open Missouri Valley Football Conference play.
“Huge,” UNI coach Mark Farley said of opening Valley play with a win. “It was a hard week. It was a long week and it turned out to be a good week because of how we came together as a team for this particular one.
“All that matters is we got this first win against a very good team and that is all we were saying ... we’ve got to beat somebody that is really good and that team is really good.”
The Panthers (3-2 overall, 1-0 MVFC) corralled one of the top rushing offenses in the nation, holding the Penguins to 55 yards on 36 carries, while UNI used three long scoring drives in the first half and some big defensive plays in the second to hand surging Youngstown State its first loss.
UNI led 21-7 at halftime, but the Penguins opened the second half with a quick scoring drive and then it was a dogfight.
A critical juncture came midway through the third when a targeting call on the Panthers’ Bryce Flater was overturned by review. Had the call stood, Youngstown State would have had first-and-10 at the UNI 12. Instead, the Penguins attempted a 44-yard field goal that sailed wide right.
“That is where the rule paid off,” Farley said. “They went to the box, and I kind of saw what happened and the quarterback was trying to get the first down, and he (Bryce) was trying to keep him from getting the first down. To the credit of our officials, I thought they did a good job.”
The final five minutes of the game were a flurry of action.
Youngstown State was on a seven-minute, 15-play drive when Austin Evans blitzed on a third-and-six play, hit Penguins quarterback Nathan Mays and forced a fumble that Seth Thomas recovered at the Panther 23. UNI then got to Youngstown State’s 47 only to fumble the ball back.
But the Panther defense stood tall and on another third-and-long when Elerson Smith and Tim Butcher converged on Mays for a huge sack, knocking Mays out of the game.
“Those are huge,” Smith said. “Anytime you can get to the quarterback those are drive killers. It was a big play, but there was a whole game of big plays like that.”
The Penguins were forced to punt after the sack, and UNI ran out the remaining 3:59, getting a 34-yard pass play that moved the Panthers from their own 28 to the Penguin 38.
“That is what good football is,” said running back Trevor Allen of the Panthers being able to run out the clock. “That is what winning football is supposed to be about.”
UNI took a 21-7 halftime lead as Will McElvain threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Weston for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and Trevor Allen and Tyler Hoosman had touchdown runs of 10 and 15 yards in the second quarter.
The Panthers scored on scoring drives of 80, 79 and 75 yards in the first half, while holding the Penguins’ explosive offense in check for the most part.
Four McElvain passes went for 30 or more yards. He finished 10 of 20 for 235 yards, with Weston hauling in three passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
“Those are what create big drives for us,” Weston said. “When we get big plays like that our rhythm kicks in and we are able to march down the field.”
After the Allen score, UNI made one of its few defensive mistakes on the Penguins’ first play after the touchdown. A great fake on a toss sweep saw the Panther defense bite on the fake, allowing Jermiah Braswell to get deep all by himself for a 75-yard touchdown pass from Mays.
Up to that point, YSU which averaged 296 rushing yards and 44 points through its first four games, had 60 yards on 20 plays.
“I think we did a good job of stuffing them up front,” said Smith, who had 2 ½ of UNI’s six sacks. “The coaches did a great job this week of letting us know what we were going to do.
“And, we played hard.”
UNI 21, Youngstown St. 14
Youngstown St. 0 7 7 0 — 14
Northern Iowa 7 14 0 0 — 21
UNI – Weston 39 pass from McElvain (Cook kick), 2:03. (Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards, 3:19).
UNI – Allen 10 run (Cook kick), 5:07. (Drive: 8 plays, 79 yards, 3:49).
YSU – Braswell 75 pass from Mays (McFadden kick), 4:56. (Drive: 1 play, 75 yards, :11).
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UNI – Hoosman 15 run (Cook kick), 1:12. (Drive: 7 plays, 75 yards, 3:44).
YSU – Mallory 14 pass from Mays (McFadden kick), 10:37). (Drive: 8 plays 75 yards 4:33.)
Att. — 10,137.
First downs 176 19
Rushes-yards 36-55 35-99
Passing yards 239 235
Comp-att-int 17-23-0 10-20-0
Punts-avg. 6-33.2 6-36.5
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 9-95 5-30
Time of possession 32:43 27:17
YOUNGSTOWN ST. — Alessi 8-28, Turner 9-15, Mays 18-13, Chapman 1-minus 1.
UNI — Allen 16-74, Hoosman 8-38, Soko 1-5, McElvain 9-minus 13, Team 1-minus 5.
YOUNGSTOWN ST. — Mays 17-23-0, 239 yards.
UNI — Weston 3-108, James 2-63, Graham 1-34, McShane 3-28, Allen 1-2.
YOUNGSTOWN ST. — Cook 3-4-7, Anderson 2-4-7, Hegedus 3-2-5, Mitchell 4-1-5, Jackson 3-2-5, Reed 3-1-4, Craig 1-3-4, Randall-Posey 0-4-4, Jones 3-0-3, Gibson 0-3-3, Madison 2-1-3, Richmond 0-2-2, Smalls 1-1-2.
UNI — Flater 4-6-10, Kolarevic 5-5-10, Wells 3-5-8, Mayberry 5-2-7, Smith 3-3-6, Evans 5-1-6, Jegen 2-3-5, Brinkman 1-4-5, Thomas 2-3-5, Brown 3-0-3, Butcher 0-3-3, Williams 0-2-2, Mooney 1-1-2, McCabe 0-2-2, Schultz 0-2-2, Soko 0-1-1, Brekke 0-1-1, Schnee 0-1-1, Kibby 1-0-1, Houghtelling 0-1-1
Tackles for loss
YOUNGSTOWN ST. — Cook 3.5-14, Mitchell 3-3, Craig 1.5-3, Reed 1-1, Gibson 1-3, Madison 1-9, Jackson 0.5-1, Smalls 0.5-2.
UNI — Smith 3-23, Evans 2-13, Thomas 2-3, Wells 1.5-5, Butcher 1-3, Brinkman 0.5-1.
YOUNGSTOWN ST. — Cook 1-8, Madison 1-9.
UNI — Smith 2.5-22, Wells 1.5-5, Evans 1-9, Thomas 0.5-1, Butcher 0.5-3.