BROOKINGS, S.D. — Some days teams have it, and others they do not.
Six weeks ago, Northern Iowa had it, and South Dakota State did not.
On Saturday, in an FCS second-round playoff game, roles reversed.
Avenging a 38-18 regular-season loss, the Jackrabbits (10-2) took control early and stormed to a 37-22 victory over the Panthers (8-5) at Dykhouse Stadium.
“Opponents have a lot to do with wins and losses, and South Dakota State did a nice job,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “To me, two very equal football teams. There were two good plans out there and today, South Dakota State had the better plan.”
In the first meeting, the Jacks made a series of errors that allowed the Panthers to take a 17-0 first-quarter lead, and SDSU never recovered.
In the rematch, the Jacks were near perfect in the first half, scoring on all five of their possessions. They led 26-7 at halftime.
“I didn’t think they were bad that first time,” Panthers senior linebacker Jared Farley said. “I just think we played pretty well that day. We knew they were going to come out guns blazing. I thought we did a good job of preparing, we just came out flat and they made more plays than we did.”
What set the tone for the game was an aggressive SDSU team that converted two first-half fourth-down plays into touchdowns that build a confident team’s confidence.
“There was some motivation from a rematch game, a redemption game for sure,” SDSU tight end Dallas Goedert said. “I think we went out there, played really well and played a good game of football.”
Leading 3-0, Taryn Christion found Cade Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown on a fourth-and-goal play with 3:43 left in the second quarter.
Then, leading 13-7, SDSU went for it again on a fourth-and-1 from the UNI 21. Christion took a direct snap, waiting for a hole to develop before breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage and scoring to make it 19-7.
“Huge,” SDSU head coach John Stigelmeier said of those conversions. “You not only get the yards or points, you get that confidence that we can do it when we need to do it so they were big.”
Trailing 10-0 after one, UNI answered with its best drive of the game, a 11-play, 72-yard drive that saw Eli Dunne find Daurice Fountain for a 6-yard touchdown with 14:12 left in the second quarter.
Then trailing 13-7, there were two more huge turning points that put SDSU in firm control.
Facing a third-and-10 at the SDSU 10, UNI got the defensive look it wanted. After coming in motion, Fountain broke free over the middle on a slant with no one near him. However, SDSU defensive tackle Ryan Earith pressured Dunne, and his throw was off target. The Jacks answered with an eight-play, 83-yard scoring drive with Christion scoring on the 21-yard run and it was 19-7.
On the ensuing kickoff, UNI was flagged for holding bringing back a 40-yard-plus return by Xavior Williams. Starting on their own 10, the Panthers tried to run a screen pass to Marcus Weymiller in the right flat, and unfortunately Weymiller went left and Dunne was flagged for intentional grounding.
UNI was eventually forced to punt out of its own end zone, and after SDSU took over on the Panther 44, Christion hit Goedert for a 28-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the half.
“At halftime, as poorly as I thought we had played and know how we could play, I felt we were still in the middle of it,” Mark Farley said.
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“We were a play away from being ahead when it was 13-7. Those fourth downs were big. They have a good quarterback and he made some good plays.”
UNI scored twice in the fourth quarter, a 1-yard Jared Farley touchdown run, and a 1-yard Trevor Allen run, but it came too late.
“Proud of our football team and how we played. We just didn’t come out well enough in the first half and then had to scramble a little bit,” Mark Farley said.