|« Pay to Play: How Much of a Business is FAMU's Non-Conference Games?||MSU Bobcats thriving on McGhee-to-Akpla connection »|
UNI Panthers miss out on No. 1 ranking
There wasn’t much separating the No. 2 and 3 teams in the nation Saturday.
Just four yards of total offense, one costly turnover and 18,886 boisterous fans decked out in green and yellow and screaming till they were blue in the face.
Feeding off its crowd, North Dakota State was the more efficient, physical team in a 27-19 victory over Northern Iowa at the sold-out Fargodome.
But the second-ranked Panthers (6-2, 5-1 Missouri Valley Football Conference) didn’t back down until their backup quarterback lofted a pass that Bison safety John Pike intercepted with 1:47 left.
“The difference I saw in North Dakota State today was they played at home,” said Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley, who had won the previous three meetings with the Bison since they joined the Valley in 2008, including 16-9 last year at the UNI-Dome.
“We played a very good football team. They had a lot of excitement; they have a great atmosphere here just like we do. So the host team definitely has an advantage in this series.”
Third-ranked North Dakota State (8-0, 5-0) outgained the Panthers just 349-345. But that figure included a 145-53 edge in rushing.
Northern Iowa, with starting tailback Carlos Anderson limited to a few snaps and no carries because of an ankle injury, relied on freshman David Johnson to carry the load. Johnson grabbed a career-high 10 passes for 114 yards, but was held to 16 rushing yards and his fumble late in the third quarter became the defining play in the game.
Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel scooped it up at the Panther 3-yard line and bolted into the end zone to put the home team in command at 24-13.
“As you look back, that was the difference in the football game,” Farley said. “The turnover that got the ball in the end zone, that triggered a series there where they had a lot of momentum.”
That momentum only seemed to grow when Northern Iowa quarterback Tirrell Rennie limped off the field early in the fourth quarter after a 6-yard run.
“I think he had his ankle turned up underneath him. He was trying to slide on that turf,” Farley said. “But I don’t know how bad it is.”
In stepped another freshman, Jared Lanpher, seeing his first action since mopup duty in a win over Missouri State.
Lanpher was poised while completing three passes to Johnson for 59 yards, the final one resulting in a 16-yard touchdown that cut the deficit to 24-19.
But the Panther defense, which played better in the second half, couldn’t stop North Dakota State’s ground game once again and the Bison marched for a 41-yard field goal and a 27-19 lead. The Bison’s success running made it easier on sophomore quarterback Brock Jensen, who used play-action to keep the defense honest and then picked it apart with 22-of-25 accuracy.
“The fact that the running game was working really set up the fact that they could throw the ball,” Northern Iowa defensive tackle Ben Boothby said. “It wasn’t really till the second half that he got any pressure. I leave that up to myself and the D-line that we really didn’t get after it like we usually get after it. Kudos to them and the O-line, they did a great job.”
Northern Iowa’s final drive ended up in the hands of Pike, the same player who had intercepted Rennie in the third quarter, ending his streak of 171 passes without a pick.
North Dakota State is poised to jump to No. 1 in this week’s poll after Georgia Southern fell to Appalachian State on Saturday.
But coach Craig Bohl said the real significance of the victory was that the Panthers have been the Bison’s measuring stick for four years.
“I can remember when we first came into the league and played Northern Iowa, they were rated No. 1 and we were so far away from where they were at,” Bohl said of that 23-13 loss in Cedar Falls.
“Things crossed my mind … how in the world would we get to the point where we could compete.”
By MARK EMMERT and JIM ECKER, Des Moines Register