116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — No. 2 North Dakota State snuck by No. 24 Northern Iowa, 23-20, on Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
Trailing 17-6 late in the third quarter, UNI (3-4) manufactured its first touchdown-scoring drive of the game, going 65 yards in seven plays and trimming the Bison (5-1) lead to 17-12 after a failed two-point conversion.
Will McElvain’s 41-yard pass to Logan Wolf set up the score — a Tyler Hoosman leaping 1-yard touchdown.
On its next drive though, NDSU dashed the Panthers’ hopes of a comeback, going 71 yards in 12 plays to extend its lead to 11 with just over six minutes to play.
UNI answered with another touchdown-scoring drive set up by McElvain’s 39-yard completion to Deion McShane, but Nate Murphy’s onside kick attempt with 2:47 remaining sailed out of bounds before any Panthers could grab the high-bouncing kick.
The Panthers got the ball back from the Bison after a quick three-and-out, but Garret Wegner’s punt was downed at the UNI 4 and the Panthers, who had no timeouts left, moved the ball just 9 yards before turning it over on downs.
“My message (after the game) was between January 6 and today, today we became a football team,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “What I told the team in the garage is it’s not the coaches, the schemes and all that stuff. It’s the spirit and the passion of the players that make the plays come to life. And they did that.
“We became a football team that can win championships on that field today. I’m really proud of our team (for) how they played. I’m really upset that we got beat.”
Fourteen-play and nine-play second-quarter scoring drives gave UNI an early 6-0 lead, but with less than four minutes remaining in the half Christian Watson returned Matthew Cook’s kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
NDSU added to its lead after the kickoff return with a 42-yard field goal before halftime set up by Zeb Noland’s 61-yard completion to Watson. Next, a 36-yard touchdown pass from Noland to tight end Josh Babicz late in the third quarter made it 17-6.
“Due to the loss of those other players, everybody had to play on special teams,” Farley said. “It was the frickin' kickoff return that hurt the most. That shouldn’t have happened.”
The Panthers were once again without leading receiver Isaiah Weston, and struggled to run the ball, totaling just 98 yards on 39 carries.
After the loss Farley revealed that his team was down a total of 25 guys.
“We went in there with three defensive linemen to play in this game. This team did not opt out. They didn’t take the easy way out. They took on the challenge and they played their tails off today,” Farley said. “What I saw today was great spirit by our team.”
McElvain finished 14 of 27 with 193 yards and no touchdowns in his first start since March 13 due to being in COVID-19 quarantine. Wolf led UNI’s receivers with 82 yards on four receptions while Spencer Cuvelier led the way in tackles with 11.