SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A dominant defensive effort. Two explosive plays from Isaiah Weston.
That recipe added up to No. 11 Northern Iowa's first road win of the season as the Panthers rolled past Missouri State, 29-6, Saturday in Missouri Valley Football Conference action at Plaster Field.
UNI (5-3 overall, 3-1 MVFC) had been 0-3 on the road, but the Bears (1-6, 1-3) proved to be the cure for the Panthers' road ails.
"It wasn't a wow game, but you had to come down and get the win, get the job done and we did that," Panther head coach Mark Farley said.
Weston hauled in touchdown passes of 46 and 70 yards, Matthew Cook booted three field goals and the Panther defense was stout all day.
Missouri State had just 74 yards on 39 plays through three quarters until the Bears went on a 90-yard, 8 minute and 18 second drive in the fourth quarter. It was the first time MSU had scored against the Panthers since 2017.
"Our defense is something special," wide receiver Aaron Graham said. "They are strong. They are smart. They are fast. They make crazy good plays, especially today."
The Bears finished with 169 yards on 56 plays, and UNI held MSU to just 16 yards rushing on 31 carries. The last time the Panthers held an opponent to under 200 total yards was in 2016, also against MSU (189 yards).
"I thought if we kept this guy in pocket (Bear quarterback Peyton Huslig) that we could get him down," Farley said. "He is really good when he gets out of the pocket. We tried to bring a four-man rush to keep him in the pocket and those four guys did a great job today."
Weston caught five passes for 157 yards, his fourth consecutive game with more than 100 receiving yards and second straight over 150.
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Cook, who had makes of 49 and 22 in the first half, drilled a 38-yard attempt with 5:57 left in the third quarter that made it 22-0. Then after another Bear three and out, Weston got deep and Will McElvain hit him in stride for a 70-yard score with 4:12 left in the third.
The Panthers were on cruise control thereafter.
Missouri State broke up UNI's shutout bid with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Huslig to Antwan Woods to complete a 15-play. 90-yard drive that consumed 8:18 of the second half.
Defensively, the Panthers recorded five sacks, 1 1/2 each by Jared Brinkman and Elerson Smith. Austin Evans had seven tackles, a tackle for loss and two fumble recoveries.
"That is really sticking to techniques in practice," Brinkman said."I just think the whole defense was running to the ball today. We just came out fast and stuck with it for the whole game."
UNI led 19-0 at halftime, scoring all 19 of those points in the second quarter.
"It is just one of those things where you have to keep grinding," Graham said. "Even if you start off slow ... you got to keep pushing yourself. It is not always going to be perfect. We have to keep pushing and doing what we do."
Cook opened the scoring with a 49-yard boot 11 seconds into the second quarter and following his 22-yard field goal, Brock Hadachek forced a fumble on the ensuing kick and Austin Evans recovered leading to McElvain 6-yard touchdown run and a 12-0 lead with 8:01 left in the second.
Then after a 27-yard Xavior Williams punt return, McElvain hit Isaiah Weston with a 46-yard touchdown pass. It is the seventh straight game with a touchdown reception for Weston.
"They are something to see," said Graham, who had five catches for 51 yards. "They are definitely a show like Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill."