HARRISONBURG, Va. — Northern Iowa’s offense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain as No. 2 James Madison won 17-0 in an FCS quarterfinal game Friday night at Bridgeforth Stadium.
Trailing 10-0 with nine minutes to play, UNI’s offense began its 11th drive of the game with only two first downs to its credit. On third-and-1 at its own 36, UNI’s three tight end formation was pushed back by the Dukes and Trevor Allen’s rush ended in a 1-yard loss and also ended the Panthers’ chance of a late comeback.
“They played good man coverage, they caused enough problems up front and (we) just couldn’t get anything going on offense,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “Kept them in check on defense all day long and just couldn’t get anything going (offensively) so give credit to their defense.”
Despite punting after Allen’s run short of the first down, UNI’s defense got its offense the ball back with 2:52 to play and two timeouts, but JMU’s defense again proved too tough to handle. Will McElvain was sacked for a 15-yard loss on fourth-and-2 and the Dukes quickly put the game away on Percy Agyei-Obese’s 1-yard touchdown run.
James Madison will play Weber State or Montana in next week’s semifinals.
“It was evident (Carter and Daka) gave (us) a lot of trouble,” Farley said of JMU’s defensive ends. “They’ve got good speed, good strength and they were disruptive and that was evident to (our) quarterback.”
Before the Dukes scored their first touchdown late in the first quarter — a 15-yard pass from Ben DiNucci to Brandon Polk — running back Jawon Hamilton fumbled on the first play from scrimmage. UNI’s Bryce Flater — who led all tacklers with 22 — recovered Hamilton’s fumble but a review overturned the call on the field, taking away what would have been UNI’s best field position of the game.
Ethan Ratke’s 42-yard field goal late in the second quarter grew James Madison’s lead to 10. After the field goal UNI (10-5) was at its own 34 when Tyler Hoosman fumbled on a would-be first-down carry. Replays showed Hoosman’s elbow down before the ball came out, but the play stood and Farley explained how a technical difficulty impacted the review.
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“Credit the officials, I thought the officials did a very good job. But, what was sad was they lost reception on the monitors. They had poor reception on what was going on so they couldn’t get a clear picture. It was breaking up and things like that,” Farley said. “That’s what (the official) was telling me so there’s nothing you can do about it. He was very good about it and said it is what it is.”
UNI, which held the Dukes 137 yards below their season average and forced two turnovers, kept JMU’s (13-1) lead to 10 at halftime despite the Panthers mustering only 31 yards on 21 plays.
“We didn’t really change a whole lot (at halftime). We just focused on making the plays that we should have made. That was our big talk during halftime,” UNI senior receiver Aaron Graham said. “There was some uncharacteristic drops between the receivers that we should have made in the first half.”
UNI played without No. 1 receiver Isaiah Weston (concussion), middle linebacker Chris Kolarevic (lower body) and didn’t get the benefit of a long-awaited return from All-America tight end Briley Moore.
“We were in that until we went for it on fourth down,” Farley said. “We’ve won games like that all the time. That’s how we got here, is by winning games like that. They did a great job with their defense now. We didn’t make a play on special teams. We had enough turnovers, but we probably didn’t get in field position we need on turnovers.”