CEDAR FALLS — With its playoff hopes dwindling, Northern Iowa took care of the business it needed to Saturday afternoon at the UNI-Dome, defeating Missouri State 37-0.
The Bears, much like Illinois State two weeks ago at the UNI-Dome, struggled to muster any offense. All 13 of the Bears’ drives ended in a punt or turnover. UNI’s defense held the Bears to just 194 total yards and allowed them past midfield only three times.
“We were more consistent today,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said of his defense. “In these games, when we’ve really been successful, we really ran to the ball well in the secondary.”
Two first-half Missouri State fumbles gave UNI (6-5, 5-3 MVFC) 10 of its 20 first-half points. Missouri State’s first offensive play ended with a Peyton Huslig fumble that was recovered by A.J. Allen. Four plays later, UNI’s drive that began at the Missouri State 26 ended with a 34-yard Austin Errthum field goal and the game’s first score.
Not quite five minutes later — after a stalled drive — the Panthers recovered their second fumble on a punt that deflected off Missouri State (4-7, 2-6) at the Bears’ 20-yard line. Three plays later, Eli Dunne connected with Jaylin James, who won a contested catch for a 16-yard score and a 10-0 lead.
For the first time in 10 quarters, with just over nine minutes remaining in the first half, UNI’s offense put together its first touchdown-scoring drive that began in its own territory. Dunne threw a 27-yard TD pass to Jalen Rima — who finished with a season-high four catches for 73 yards — as the Panthers drove 88 yards in 12 plays to gain a 17-0 advantage.
“There’s been (offensive) struggles but where the compliment needs to go is what you don’t know — that (offensive coordinator John Bond) Coach Bond was gone all week because of a family emergency,” Farley said. “Those young coaches on offense really did a tremendous job planning, structuring, (and) finishing the week.”
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Missouri State’s offensive ineptitude continued throughout the second half. Huslig completed 4 of 14 passes for 72 yards with two interceptions and was relieved by backup Dalton Hill in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Jason Randall led the Bears with just 57 yards on 15 carries in what was a listless performance by the visiting offense.
The Panthers easily extended their 20-0 halftime lead while keeping the clock ticking. After gaining 38 yards on 16 rushes in the first half, UNI ran 26 times for 110 yards in the second.
Marcus Weymiller — who ran for 97 yards on 24 carries — scored two touchdowns, each in the second half, with the second coming after a 62-yard interception return by Duncan Ferch.
With its win, UNI secured its status as a bubble team for the FCS Playoffs’ 24-team field. Farley said he feels his team has “positioned” itself for an at-large bid.
“First and foremost, we’ve beaten No. 20, I believe, No. 9 and No. 2,” Farley said. “We’ve got the strongest schedule of all 127 FCS schools and we’re the only team in our league that beat No. 1 or No. 2. We beat No. 2 South Dakota State head-to-head. When we’re healthy we play really good football.”
The FCS Selection Show airs at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPNU.