FCS Second Round Playoffs: Northern Iowa Defense Keys Upset of #7 Seeded South Dakota State, 13-10

Northern Iowa QB Will McElvain runs away from the South Dakota State defense in setting up the game winning field goal in the Panthers 13-10 victory. (Courtesy of UNI Athletics)

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Behind a dominating defensive effort, Northern Iowa rallied for a 13-10 victory over #7 seeded South Dakota State in front of 4,102 fans at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

Northern Iowa (10-4) kicker Matthew Cook converted the go-ahead 18-yard field goal with 2:10 left and the UNI defense did what it did the last three quarters of the game–shutdown the South Dakota State (8-5) offense) to secure the win.

The game, however, started with a flurry for SDSU.

The Jackrabbits dominated the first quarter, scoring all 10 of their points. Cade Johnson returned the opening kickoff 43 yards to put the Jackrabbits at midfield . Freshman QB Keaton Heide completed all three of his passes on the five-play opening drive including a 22-yard touchdown pass to WR Adam Anderson.

After the SDSU forced a three-and-out on the Panthers’ first drive of the game, followed by a short punt, the Jackrabbits upped their lead to 10-0 on a 22-yard field goal by Chase Vinatieri.

“It was kind of a whirlwind in that first quarter against us,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “We had to regain our momentum, and stay in the plan, too. It was more stay in the plan, stay together as a group and that is what I’m most pleased about is they stuck to the plan and stayed together.”

But then Northern Iowa got the wake-up call.

The Panthers forced turnovers on each of SDSU’s first three possessions of the second quarter.  UNI could only capitalize once as the Panthers turned the final miscue into three points as Cook connected on a 23-yard field goal with 2:13 to play in the first half to edge the Jackrabbit lead to 10-3.

UNI tied the game 10-10 with a 10-play, 75-yard drive to open the second half.  A 33-yard catch and run by Aaron Graham on a pass by QB Will McElvain set up a two-yard rumble into the endzone by RB Trevor Allen.

Both defenses dominated action until the mid-way of the fourth quarter.

“Give credit to UNI, I didn’t think we ever got in rhythm on offense for three quarters, after the first quarter,” South Dakota State coach John Steigelmeier said.

With UNI starting at their own 19, McElvain go the the Panthers going with a 31-yard scramble and run to midfield on the drive’s opening play. Allen extended the drive with a 2-yard run for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the SDSU 42 before McElvain hit Suni Lane along the right sideline for a 31 yards to the set up first and goal at the Jackrabbit 5.

The SDSU defense held UNI out of the end zone, but Cook converted his second field-goal attempt of the game.

SDSU in its final possesion could only get to its own 35 before turning it over on downs.

UNI held a 238-220 advantage in total offense, with Allen gaining a game-high 90 yards on 24 carries. McElvain completed 11-of-20 passes for 124 yards.

For SDSU, Heide completed 14-of-27 passes for 167 yards. Johnson caught five passes for 35 yards, with Anderson tallying four receptions for a season-high 84 yards in his final collegiate game.

The UNI win sends the Panthers next Friday to #2 seeded James Madison in the FCS quarterfinals.  The Dukes a 66-21 winner over Monmouth in the second round.

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