116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa squeaked out its second consecutive win Saturday, 20-14, over Indiana State at the UNI-Dome.
Leading 17-6 midway through the fourth quarter, defensive troubles on third and fourth downs caught up with the Panthers (2-3, 1-1) as a methodical Sycamores offense went 79 yards in 14 plays, bringing the game within a field goal after a successful 2-point conversion.
On the following drive, UNI’s offense mustered a much-needed answer.
Facing third-and-5 at the Indiana State 43, quarterback Theo Day scrambled for a first down and punctuated his moving of the chains by lowering his helmet to reach the line to gain.
“You saw him today, (Day) was scrambling whenever he had the opportunity,” UNI linebacker Bryce Flater said. “He was lowering his shoulder. He knew when the hit was coming and he knew where the first down was and he’s always fighting for the extra yards. That’s just awesome to see out of our quarterback. I’m just excited for the rest of the season.”
Six plays later, Matthew Cook hit his second of two field goals in the game, a 35-yard attempt that pushed the Panthers’ lead back to six with 1:44 remaining.
“It tells you a whole lot about where we were last year at this point and then where we are now and what Coach (Ryan) Clanton and Coach (Bodie) Reeder have brought to us and the confidence they’ve given us,” Day said of the Panthers offense. “We’re keeping (opponents) pretty off balance, so I’m really proud of where this offense is at right now. I really do feel like we can be one of the best in the country. I’m very confident in that.”
A last-ditch effort drive by the Sycamores quickly became dramatic when Gavin Screws connected on a 17-yard pass to Harry Van Dyne to reach the the Indiana State 43. But a false start put Indiana State behind the chains and led to a Cannon Butler quarterback hit on third down and a game-sealing Benny Sapp interception on fourth down.
“They stepped up (and) it’s night and day from where we were,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “Now you can start to see them in sync. They look like the defense that played last year. They’re not there yet, but, man, they’re starting to look like it. And now they understand what they need to do to keep building from it. That’s why I’m excited.”
A Sycamores (1-3, 0-1) game plan built on ball control — and a third-quarter surprise onside kick that was recovered — limited the Panthers offense to only seven possessions.
UNI looked ticketed for a big afternoon after going 75 yards in nine plays for a touchdown on its first drive. Day — who completed 14 of 24 passes for 180 yards — capped the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, pulling a read-option and running into the end zone untouched.
The Panthers found the end zone for a second and final time on their first drive of the third quarter, going 92 yards in nine plays, capped by an 18-yard pass from Day to Alex Allen.
Dom Williams and Vance McShane ran for 66 and 60 yards on 11 and 10 carries, respectively. Spencer Cuvelier had a game-high 11 tackles while Devin Rice, Khristian Boyd and Edwin Dearman each collected a sack each.
UNI hosts Illinois State (2-1) next Saturday at 4 p.m. for its annual homecoming game (ESPN+).