OGDEN, Utah — Two hours before last night’s kickoff against No. 5 Weber State, it looked like severe weather could be the headline of No. 9 Northern Iowa’s final nonconference game.
Instead, it was severe first-quarter mistakes under sunny skies that ultimately cost the Panthers in a 29-17 loss.
Jalen Rima bobbled the game’s opening kickoff and was taken down at UNI’s 8-yard line. Six plays later, UNI’s drive stalled, and on its first play from scrimmage, Weber State’s Rashid Shaheed went 73 yards on a catch-and-run from Kaden Jenks on blown coverage.
On the ensuing kickoff, Deion McShane fumbled and the Wildcats recovered at UNI’s 8. Weber State extended its lead to 10 four plays later on a 25-yard Trey Tuttle field goal.
Will McElvain then threw his first career interception on UNI’s next drive. The redshirt freshman QB had Jaylin James open in the seam but the pass was deflected and picked off by Brody Burke. Eight plays later, Weber State’s lead grew to 17 on a 2-yard touchdown run by Kris Jackson.
The Panthers cobbled together two scoring drives before the first half ended — one a 37-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Weston — but allowed 10 more Weber State points before the break to trail, 27-10.
“The opening kickoff, the first play on defense and then the next kickoff there’s so many tragic errors because of whatever reason,” UNI Coach Mark Farley said. “It was such a bad start and then you had to calm them back down to get them back to the level they played at in the second half. Even at halftime there really wasn’t a ton of concern because I knew how many possessions we had and I knew if we played like we could, we could stop them like we did.”
UNI briefly flirted with making the game competitive in the second half.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Wildcats’ opening drive, it faced a fourth-and-inches on Weber State’s 30 and McElvain’s no-huddle QB sneak got past the line to gain. However, a late review of the third-down play’s spot blew the play dead, and after review, upheld the spot. Tyler Hoosman’s fourth-and-inches attempt was stuffed in the backfield.
“Supposedly they blew the whistle before the play had ever started. I never heard a whistle. No one on the O-line heard a whistle. No one on the team heard a whistle,” UNI guard Jackson Scott-Brown said. “But supposedly there was a whistle for a review so that kind of took the air out of our tire a little bit. Then they just came out the next play and got a little lower than us and caused the tackle for loss.”
Weber State (2-2) wrapped up its win despite being limited by UNI’s defense to 1 second-half yard.
A high snap from Mason Neisen late in the third quarter with UNI backed up on its own 2-yard line went through the back of the end zone for a safety.
Thanks in large part to three Weber State personal fouls, UNI put together a 13-play, 95-yard drive capped by a 2-yard TD pass to Jaylin James with 4:04 remaining.
McElvain finished the game 16-for-29 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He added 105 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
“We’ve got a good football team that did not perform in the first quarter and then tried to rally from behind,” Farley said. “(We) didn’t perform in the first quarter last week and rallied and won the game. So they better learn what they need to do coming out of the gate because three quarters of football — you better play four quarters — right now for us it’s the first quarter.”
Weston and tight end Tristan Bohr left the game with injuries.
UNI (2-2) hosts Youngstown State (3-0) at 4 p.m. Saturday.