DAVIS, Calif. — Northern Iowa couldn’t corral receiver Keelan Doss and UC Davis Saturday night at Aggie Stadium, falling 23-16 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
A wild 16 minutes to start the second half ended in a 3-point gain for the Panthers, who entered halftime trailing 16-6. UC Davis quarterback Jake Meier threw two interceptions and Eli Dunne threw one of his own in the 16-minute span.
After a 63-yard Duncan Ferch interception return, UNI’s offense went backwards and Austin Errthum missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt. After Meier’s second interception, Dunne was picked off in Aggies territory — his second red-zone interception of the game — netting the Panthers zero points off the turnovers.
UNI coach Mark Farley and Dunne said the offense’s two red-zone turnovers proved to be the difference.
“We were moving the ball on them all day we just missed on some opportunities when we got in (the red zone) and we can’t do that or else you’re going to end up losing, like we did,” Dunne said.
After trading field goals on their first possessions, the Aggies got the game’s initial separation on a nine-play, 76-yard first-quarter drive capped by a Meier 4-yard touchdown pass to Wesley Preece.
Doss — who finished with a game-high nine catches for 137 yards — made good on the NFL hype headed into the matchup. The senior had receptions of 22 and 31 yards on the Aggies’ first touchdown drive and proved unguardable by a UNI secondary that was without No. 1 cornerback Xavior Williams for the third consecutive game.
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“I thought they were going after our backside corner — our freshman corner,” Farley said. “After he settled in he really did a great job.”
After the Aggie touchdown, UNI’s offense managed only 50 yards in the second quarter following a 110-yard first quarter. As the Panthers sputtered, the Aggies and Doss continued to move, hitting two field goals to take the 10-point lead into the break.
“We really stayed in the plan we came in with and just thought we needed to continue to get pressure on the quarterback,” Farley said. “After we settled in and found out what they were trying to do in the first half I think our players made the adjustment.”
UNI and UC Davis exchanged field-goal misses in the final 14 minutes. Errthum sent a 42-yard attempt wide right to draw the Panthers within four and Max O’Rouke’s miss from 38 with five minutes left provided one last chance to draw even.
Beginning at their own 21, the Panthers went 54 yards in 10 plays, getting to the Aggies 36. Facing fourth-and-10 with no timeouts, Dunne’s attempt for Briley Moore was broken up, turning the ball over on downs and allowing UC Davis to kneel away the game’s final two minutes.
“I felt that we could win this thing in the fourth quarter,” Farley said. “I thought we could battle back on them and our defense was playing good (and) I knew we could move the ball on them it (was) just getting it in the end zone. It’s not on Eli, it’s not on anybody. We didn’t get the ball in the end zone (from) the red zone and ultimately that was the difference in the game.”