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CEDAR FALLS — Jared Farley’s interception of Patrick Tyler with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter Saturday gave Northern Iowa an opportunity to win a game in which they totaled just 270 yards of offense and gained only 13 first downs.
The Panthers (1-2) trailed Southern Utah (2-1) 21-10 headed into the fourth quarter at Eccles Coliseum, but Farley’s interception paved the way for a 30-yard Austin Errthum field goal to tie it at 21 with 5:37 left to play.
On Southern Utah’s next drive, the Panthers stopped Tyler for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Thunderbirds 42.
UNI then started the first of two potential game-winning drives in Thunderbirds territory with 4:32 remaining. Trevor Allen gained seven yards on first down, but was stuffed for no gain on second. On third down Eli Dunne threw incomplete for Jaylin James, setting up a go-ahead 52-yard field goal for Errthum.
Errthum — who had lost the starting placekicker job to Sam Drysdale in fall camp — was called upon after Drysdale began the game with back-to-back misses of 26 and 42 yards. Errthum’s attempt was blocked and returned by Southern Utah to the UNI 17 where a 26-yard field goal by Manny Berz proved to be the difference in the 24-21 final.
“Offensively and defensively there were a lot of guys that left it all out there (tonight),” UNI head coach Mark Farley said on the network post-game show. “The sideline is what I always watch in those situations of how we go through the third and fourth quarter — I think we were down by 11 going into the fourth quarter — and there was a calmness and a determined effort. We were in a position to win the football game. So, that’s the things we’ve got to take from it, and correct the things that put us in the position that we didn’t get the win.”
UNI got the ball back down 24-21 with 1:50 left in the game, but a non-existent running game — 21 rushes for 25 yards (excluding quarterback Eli Dunne) — had taken its toll on an offense that struggled to move the ball against the Thunderbird defense. Dunne — who totaled 284 yards passing in the loss — threw his second and game-deciding interception on the Panthers final drive.
“When we couldn’t run the football I think that was probably the thing that hurt us the most. Because you have got to have some type of balance, otherwise you become totally one-(dimensional),” Farley said. “A lot of things that we overcame throughout this day — we battled back two, three, four different times — but that still goes back to we’re in position and we’ve got to be able to finish.”