CARBONDALE, Ill. – The chance to pull out a win over a top 10 opponent on the road was on the table.
But normally steady and reliable kicker Matthew Cook saw his 30-yard field goal attempt from straight on with seven seconds remaining sail wide left as third-ranked Northern Iowa dropped a Missouri Valley Football Conference game to No. 10 Southern Illinois, 17-16, Saturday.
After leading 13-0 at halftime, UNI (2-2) watched as the Salukis rallied behind third-string quarterback Stone Labanowitz in the second half.
But as the outcome looked bleak trailing by one late, Panther quarterback Will McElvain hit wide receiver Quan Hampton for a 52-yard gain over the middle on a fourth and 10 play with a minute to go to put UNI in field goal position.
A pair of Tyler Hoosman runs to the middle of the field set up the field goal attempt, and Cook missed for the second time in the game after making his first two attempts.
“Our team did what they were asked to do,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “Our defense put us in position to win and our offense with their backs against the wall on fourth-and-10 converts. Our two-minute offense was exactly how we practiced it. The execution was excellent. Just unfortunate we didn’t get the win.”
UNI’s offense struggled in the second half after scoring on three of four first-half possessions.
McElvain was just 10 of 22 for 254 yards and the Panthers’ run game rushed for 151 yards, but only 40 in the second half.
Hoosman led UNI with 73 yards on 18 carries.
UNI drove inside the SIU 25 four times and had to settle for field goal attempts, twice in the first half when the Panthers dominated play and could put distance between themselves and the Salukis.
“We have to look at that on film,” Farley said. “When the field gets short like that…we do the same thing all the time against opponents so it isn’t like it is a one-way deal. But we missed a field goal early and we didn’t get touchdowns when we needed.”
“It’s like I said, we just missed a kick at the end.”
Labanowitz completed 11 of 15 pass for 91 yards and engineered all three of SIU’s scoring drives. He also had several key scrambles to extend plays.
SIU finished with 416 yards on 72 plays, including 270 in the second half.
Riley Van Whye led UNI with 14 tackles.
SIU scored on its opening two possessions of the third quarter, getting a Nico Gualdoni 37-yard field goal on its opening drive. Then running back Javon Williams hit a 42-yard bomb to Avante Cox out of the wildcat formation to make it 13-10 with 2:22 left in the third quarter.
The Salukis then took their first lead when Labanowitz, who took over for Nic Baker late in the first half, Jerrion Rollins for a 3-yard touchdown with 9:43 left in the fourth to make it 17-16.
The Panthers gave the ball right back to the Salukis when Dom Williams fumbled on the tail end of a long run, but Gualdoni missed a field goal that could have extended SIU’S lead.
That set up the final sequence of plays.
“This is a really good team and I knew it was going to go back and forth,” Farley said. “We had control in the first half. The second half they did a couple of things to create some points, but in the end offense put us in position to win.”
UNI came ready to play as it produced two long drives that led to field goals of 26 and 34 yards by Cook.
The Panther defense came up big multiple times. Omar Brown’s first interception of the year stopped a deep drive into UNI territory with the Salukis looking to score game’s first touchdown.
Nic Baker underthrew his intended receiver and Brown leaped and made a nice grab inside the UNI 15. An 18-yard run by Tyler Hoosman and a 52-yard bomb from McElvain to Tysen Kershaw set up Cook’s 34-yard field goal for a 6-0 lead with 13:17 left in the half.
The defense made two more big plays in the first half.
SIU drove to the UNI 32 and was going to attempt a long field goal when the Salukis drew the Panthers offsides. SIU then tried to go for it on a fourth-and-1 and Jared Brinkman and Riley VanWhye stuffed Javon Williams Jr for no gain.
UNI followed by driving all the way inside the SIU 10, but Cook was wide on a 24-yard attempt.
However, once again the defense rose to the occasion as Brawntae Wells stripped Baker of the ball and Caden Houghtelling fell on it on the Saluki 23. This time, the offense didn’t stall inside the red zone. Hoosman punched it in with 34 seconds left until halftime for a 13-0 lead.
The Panther defense actually had one last big play in the half as Hougtelling recorded a sack when SIU neared midfield with its final possession of the second quarter.
“No matter how you play it out in your head, we put ourselves in position to win and that is what a football team is supposed to do,” Farley said. “Do that stuff on the road and you have a chance to be really good.
“I don’t know what else you could ask this team to do. Taking an eight-hour tour down here to play this football game and play the way they did. That is what we got on the bus to do when we left town.”
SIU 17, UNI 16
UNI 3 10 3 0 — 16
SIU 0 0 10 7 — 17
UNI – Cook 26 FG, 4:05. (Scoring drive: 11 plays, 72 yards, 5:35.)
UNI – Cook 34 FG, 13:17. (Scoring drive: 8 plays, 76 yards, 2:52).
UNI – Hoosman 1 run (Cook kick), :34. (Scoring drive: 8 plays, 23 yards, 3:32).
SIU – Gualdoni 37 FG, 8:08. (Scoring drive: 12 plays, 54 yards, 6:43)
SIU – Cox 42 pass from Williams (Gualdoni kick), 2:22. (Scoring drive: 7 plays, 80 yards, 3:40).
UNI – Cook 41 FG, :48 (Scoring drive: plays, 53 yards, 1:29).
SIU – Rollins 3 pass from Labanowitz (Gualdoni kick), 9:43. (Scoring drive: 12 plays, 75 yards, 6:05).
First downs 19 23
Rushes-yards 34-151 44-192
Passing 254 224
Comp-Att-Int 10-23-0 20-28-1
Return Yards 38 72
Punts-Avg. 3-41.3 2-42.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-1
Penalty-Yards 3-20 8-70
Time of Possession 24:39 35:21
RUSHING—N. Iowa, Ty. Hoosman 18-73, Do. Williams 9-53, De. McShane 3-22, Wi. McElvain 4-3. S. Illinois, Ro. Elliott 20-80, Ja. Williams Jr. 10-41, Ju. Strong 3-33, Av. Cox 3-30, St. Labanowitz 4-10, La. Lenoir 1-8, Ni. Baker 2-(minus 5), Team 1-(minus 5).
PASSING—N. Iowa, Wi. McElvain 10-22-0-254, Team 0-1-0-0. S. Illinois, St. Labanowitz 11-15-0-91, Ni. Baker 8-10-1-91, Ja. Williams Jr. 1-2-0-42, Av. Cox 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—N. Iowa, De. McShane 4-105, Qu. Hampton 4-91, Ty. Kershaw 1-52, Lo. Wolf 1-6. S. Illinois, Av. Cox 4-67, La. Lenoir 5-59, Le. Mitchell 2-40, Ro. Elliott 2-25, Ja. Williams Jr. 3-17, Ja. Garrett 1-8, Ju. Strong 2-5, Je. Rollins 1-3.