Controversial Call Robs UNI of Upset Attempt vs. No. 1 Team
With a chance to defeat the No. 1 team in the country in South Dakota State (9-1), Northern Iowa (5-5) dropped a last-second defeat at the hands of the Jackrabbits, 31-28.
It started in favor of SDSU, too. Running back Isaiah Davis accounted for 37 of the Jacks' 65 first-drive yards before Hunter Dustman booted a 28-yard kick to take the first lead of the game for, 3-0 with 6:27 left in the first quarter.
The Panthers bounced right back though, making its way down to the SDSU 34 before senior running back Vance McShane bounced a third and short run to the outside and scampered in for a 34-yard score to make it 7-3, just 48 seconds into the second.
The Jacks scored on their next two drives as tight end Tucker Kraft caught a 57-yard bomb, and Davis punched it in from the one-yard line to make it 10-7. Then Gronowski found a wide-open Jadon Janke for a 22-yard score on their next possession to extend the Jackrabbit lead to 17-7.
Then Theo Day put on a show.
Day led a methodical drive, putting the ball where only his receivers could catch it, finding Deion McShane for a 14-yard pass, Sam Schnee for 24, and Desmond Hutson for a 22-yard acrobatic grab and score. The touchdown brought the Panthers back within three, 17-14. On the made point after, Matthew Cook took sole possession of the record for most consecutive made PATs in UNI history with 115.
This is what Farley had to say of his quarterback's play:
Theo is one of the better quarterbacks around from what I've seen. ... He gutted up, he took a lot of hits, and he was still making throws.
UNI left in 1:32 on the board for SDSU to travel 58 yards, and Dustman nailed his second field goal of the half as time expired. The No. 1 Jackrabbits took a 20-14 lead into the half.
SDSU moved down the field with ease after receiving the kick to start the third quarter, and Amar Johnson brought their drive to an end with a 16-yard run for a touchdown. Gronowski tossed a screen to Davis who walked in for the two-point conversion, moving the South Dakota State lead to 28-14 just 5:07 into the third quarter.
Even after the hot second-half start, the Jacks couldn't stop Day's heroics.
The Michigan State transfer launched a 53-yard bomb to sophomore wideout Sergio Morancy and followed it up with a 21-yard scoring strike to Logan Wolf on the next possession. UNI got right back in it, cutting the lead to 28-21 with 8:33 left in the third.
It wasn't just Day that put on an outstanding performance.
Though the Panther offense couldn't get going on their next two drives, the UNI defense looked like previous iterations of itself, holding the formidable Jackrabbit offense to zero points over the following 26 minutes of gameplay.
Senior safety Korby Sander said this of the defense's second-half play:
There are a lot of seniors on this team that have given a lot to this program and to themselves. We were playing at a different level because we knew there was a lot on the line.
Part of the defensive stand came from First-Team All-MVFC safety Benny Sapp III, who came up with a wildly athletic interception with 9:59 left in the fourth that gave the Northern Iowa offense the ball back.
Sander added this of Sapp's pick:
That was huge. (Benny) has been playing well all year. He is one of the best safeties that I've ever played with and I've played a lot of football around here.
It was once again Day's time to shine.
With the help of 24-yards on the ground from Dom Williams, a 13-yard catch by Logan Wolf, and a 14-yard grab on fourth down by Deion McShane, the Panthers made their way to the SDSU two-yard line. Then Day walked in for a two-yard touchdown that knotted up the score 28-28 with 4:41 left to play.
Somehow, the UNI defense held strong yet again, forcing the Jackrabbits to punt it away. Day and the Panther offense had their opportunity to snag a victory over the top team in the nation at home with 2:17 remaining.
An opportunity squandered.
After a six-yard check-down to Hutson on 2nd and 10, Day, who finished the evening 16-30 for 270 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks, was sacked for a ten-yard loss, moving the punt unit back to UNI's 17-yard line. Freshman punter Noah Pettinger shot a line-drive punt to the Jacks' 42 after a low snap, and it appeared that all hope was lost after Gronowski and company moved the ball down to the Panther 18 with four seconds left and a kicker who was 11-14 inside the 40-yard line all season.
In a last-ditch effort to send the contest to overtime, Coach Farley sent out the lanky Morancy to attempt to block the kick with two seconds remaining.
It worked. Until it didn't.
Dustman missed the 35-yard attempt, but a penalty was called on Morancy for 'leaping.'
Dustman's second attempt from 26-yards out with zeros on the clock went through, sending the Jackrabbits home from the Dome with a 31-28 victory.
This is what Farley said of the final play and the penalty call:
It is what it is. It ended the way it ended, nothing's going to change it. ... (We have to) bite the bullet on that one.
The Panthers have an incoming bye week before they face South Dakota in Vermillion for their final game of the season on November 19.