CEDAR FALLS — Six South Dakota turnovers and career days from wide receiver Isaiah Weston and running back Tyler Hoosman propelled 14th-ranked Northern Iowa to a 42-27 win over the Coyotes on Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
“We were just trying to get after the ball, trying to swarm the ball no matter if it’s a run or pass,” UNI defensive back Austin Evans said.
South Dakota (3-4, 2-1), the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s top-ranked offense, dictated the game’s tempo in what became a back-and-forth shootout.
The Coyotes finished off a 17 play, 62-yard drive with a 30-yard Mason Lorber field goal to get back within a score at 35-27 with 33 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
However, as UNI (4-3, 2-1) was able to do throughout the game, it answered the Coyotes’ scoring drive with a seven-play, 75-yard march that featured six runs for 73 yards from Hoosman. Hoosman — who ran for a career-high 111 yards on 24 carries — capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run to push the lead back to two scores for good with 11:44 remaining.
“Our rushing game, that kind of dictates the game,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “When you can rush the ball you can control the game.”
The Coyotes’ final three possessions ended in a turnover on downs, a sack-fumble by Elerson Smith recovered by Seth Thomas and an interception by Christian Jegen.
Before UNI’s defense settled in, its and South Dakota’s offenses combined for 35 first-quarter points. The Panthers racked up 152 yards in the game’s first 15 minutes and 132 came on just two plays.
Will McElvain connected with Weston on the Panthers’ second drive for a 62-yard gain. Then, two plays later he fired an 8-yard touchdown to Weston — who finished with a career-high 189 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
South Dakota answered on the first play of its next drive with a 56-yard pass from Austin Simmons to Billy Conaway to go ahead 14-7.
UNI’s second big play of the first quarter came next as McElvain brooke loose from the pocket for a 70-yard scramble. That set up Hoosman’s 8-yard TD run to re-tie the game at 14.
The back-and-forth continued as Simmons found tight end Austin Goehring in the back of the end zone with 1:50 left in the first quarter. Then, Simmons and McElvain exchanged interceptions before Simmons threw his second of three INTs of the afternoon, this one returned 16 yards for a touchdown by Evans to tie the score at 21.
“I’m going, ‘really, (we) gave up 21 points in one quarter?’” Farley said. “I knew (Simmons) was going to be a handful all day long (and) he could score at anytime. So we just had to be patient, be poised, and keep rushing him and make the plays when we had the opportunity.”
Trailing 24-21 at halftime, UNI’s defense made the right adjustments and limited South Dakota to 3 second-half points while Weston reeled in 65- and 54-yard TD receptions in the third quarter of his career day to give UNI a lead back that it didn’t relinquish.
“I’m just pleased with our football team,” Farley said. “It was a good team win.”
UNI travels to Springfield, Mo., next Saturday to take on Missouri State (1-5, 1-2) at 2 p.m.