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UNI football falls to 0-3 with home-opening loss to Sacramento State
FCS No. 7 Hornets sting Panthers, 37-21
CEDAR FALLS — FCS No. 7 Sacramento State held off Northern Iowa, 37-21, Saturday evening at the UNI-Dome.
UNI (0-3) offered itself and its fans no relief as it played from behind for the third consecutive week.
“The big thing was tackling and dropped balls. That was the story of the whole game in my opinion,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “Then we missed a field goal. All in all there was error and it was too little too late.”
Trailing 24-7 at halftime, a promising start to the third quarter began with Jack Kriebs sacking Sacramento State (2-0) quarterback Jake Dunniway for a 13-yard loss on third down, forcing a three-and-out on the Hornets’ first drive of the quarter.
UNI then got its offense moving after first-half flashes, putting together 56- and 75-yard scoring drives to pull back within a possession.
The first of the two touchdown drives was punctuated with a 24-yard pass from Theo Day to Logan Wolf, who made a tough, contested catch in man-to-man coverage. Less than 10 minutes later, Vance McShane — who finished with a team-high 84 yards on 12 carries — broke a tackle and stiff-armed another defender on a 4-yard touchdown run.
Forty-eight combined points through the first three quarters somehow gave way to a largely defensive fourth as a Sacramento State eliminated UNI’s chances of a comeback with an 11-play, 66-yard drive that took nearly 6 1/2 minutes and resulted in a 37-yard field goal to extend its lead to 30-21 with just 3:40 to play.
A garbage time 3-yard touchdown run from Asher O’Hara increased the Hornets’ lead to 16 after a Day was intercepted in Sacramento State territory by Marte Mapu with less than three minutes to play.
“Most of the time the biggest problem we have is getting our first, first down of the series,” UNI tight end Alex Allen said. “I feel like once we get that, we just get on a roll. We can’t shoot ourselves in the foot — jumping and getting penalties for stupid stuff — so we need to get better with that.”
Sacramento State opened the game’s scoring with an 11-play, 62-yard drive engineered by O’Hara — its backup quarterback — who completed all three of his attempts on the drive for 30 yards and finished it off with a 3-yard touchdown run.
After failing to gain a first down in its first two drives, UNI responded with a 10 play, 75-yard touchdown drive of its own. Eight plays into the possession, at the Sacramento State 36, Day connected Allen — who snuck out the backside of the play after an initial block — for a 24-yard gain. Two plays later, Day completed a 17-yard back-shoulder touchdown pass to Allen to even the score at 7 with 1:08 remaining in the first quarter.
The Panthers’ deficit continued to grow in the second quarter as defensive struggles persisted and a fumble by wide receiver Quan Hampton led to three more points for the Hornets.
Seventy-five and 52-yard touchdown drives were led by Dunniway and O’Hara respectively in the second. Dunniway’s scoring drive — which ended on a 21-yard pass to a wide-open Marshel Martin — included late substitutions and pre-snap confusion.
“There’s more than just the practice, there’s something else that we’ve got to get to the core of,” Farley said. “But, we’ve got to tackle. Cripes, you can’t get through this game without tackling. We missed sacks. We missed hits on the sideline. We had opportunities to actually get balls (forced) out and we totally whiffed the tackle and 2 yards, 3 yards turned into 20 yards and then it just extended (their) drives.”
Trailing 24-7 with 8:34 left in the half, UNI got its offense moving on two separate drives.
A 20-yard rush from McShane got the Panthers into the red zone, but Matthew Cook was unable to convert a 30-yard field goal to draw within two scores. After forcing a Hornets punt on their next drive, the Panthers again moved into Sacramento State territory, only to commit their second turnover as Day fumbled amid pressure and the Hornets recovered at their own 31.
Day finished the game completing 20 of 36 attempts for 270 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. Wolf led the Panthers with a game-high 88 yards receiving on four catches while Spencer Cuvelier had a game-high 12 tackles.
“I think a lot of guys are going to have to go home tonight and look themself in the mirror and figure out what they can do to help this team,” Allen said. “We don’t want to (point fingers). Each room (of positions) needs to look at themselves and see what they need to do to get better and then we’ll come back on Monday and grow as a team.”
UNI (0-1 MVFC) returns to Missouri Valley Football Conference play next Saturday when it travels to Western Illinois for a 3 p.m. kickoff at Hanson Field (ESPN+).