CEDAR FALLS — The worry of a hangover was real early for No. 14 Northern Iowa on Saturday.
A week after falling badly to No. 1 North Dakota State, the Panthers looked out of sync defensively in the opening minutes against South Dakota in its first game since the defeat. The Coyotes were running up and down the field, scoring 21 first-quarter points.
Fortunately, UNI's offense did not have a hangover.
After USD's early onslaught, the Panthers settled in and stormed past the Coyotes in the second half en route to a 42-27 Missouri Valley Football Conference at the UNI-Dome.
Isaiah Weston hauled in four passes for 189 yards and three touchdown passes and the Panthers forced six Coyote turnovers as UNI scored a huge bounce-back win.
"Special teams, offense and defense ... it was a big team win," UNI head coach Mark Farley said.
Weston caught touchdown passes of 8, 65 and 54, and a first-half reception of 62 yards. Tyler Hoosman added 111 rushing yards and two scores as part of a 204-yard team rushing day as the Panthers improved to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the MVFC.
"It was a great team win, and that is the No. 1 deal. Can't wait to go celebrate with these guys," Hoosman said.
It was tough loss for the Coyotes (3-4, 2-1) as they came in on a three-game win streak.
"We made too many mistakes today," South Dakota head coach Bob Nielson said "UNI is a good football team and if you make mistakes like we did today, giving up big plays, turning the ball over, and they’re going to find a way to win and that’s what they did."
Worried that his team may have a hangover after losing by 34 at NDSU, Farley was definitely concerned after the first quarter. The only thing keeping him sane was UNI's offense matched the Coyotes with several huge plays in a crazy first 30 minutes before the defense settled in.
"If you give up a big play it helps to have your offense come and get it right back for you," Farley said. "It kind of settles you right back down."
"So, at the end of the day, it was just calming them down and play the way we know, play it well and we just got better and better as the game went on."
You have free articles remaining.
The Coyotes turned great field position into 14 early points and led 21-7 after the first quarter.
Kai Henry, who was ejected for a flagrant foul early in the second quarter, scored on an 8-yard run after USD forced a fumble on UNI's opening possession.
The Panthers answered as a 62-yard pass from Will McElvain to Weston led to Weston hauling in an 8-yard score, his sixth consecutive game with a touchdown catch.
It took the Coyotes 44 seconds to respond as Billy Conaway found himself all alone after a Panther defender fell down and he hauled in a 56-yard touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead.
UNI answered as McElvain sprinted for a 70-yard gain on a scramble, and Hoosman tied the game at 14 with an 8-yard touchdown run.
The Coyotes retook the lead, 21-14 on a Austin Simmons to Austin Goehring touchdown pass with 1:50 left in the first. Simmons, the leading passer in the MVFC, finished with 299 yards and two touchdowns, but he was also intercepted three times and sacked five.
"We moved the ball relatively consistently all day," Nielson said. "The second half, when we got behind, we pressed a little bit and didn’t convert some scoring opportunities there in the second half. That was disappointing.
"At the same time, defensively, we were a little bit up and down today. We’d play really well, then make a mistake and give up a big play. So credit to them. When there were big plays to make, they made them and took advantage of our mistakes."
The first huge defensive play came after the Coyotes took their lead.
Panther safety Austin Evans made a perfect read and picked off a Simmons pass in the flat and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown just plays after USD thwarted a UNI drive with a Mark Collins Jr. interception at the Coyote 3.
"They came out in trey formation, three receivers to the right and I was lined up on No. 2 (Kai Henry)," Evans said. "Pretty much pounding through my read and as soon as he cocked the ball back, I kind of jumped on it and from there it was the end zone."
Mason Lorber kicked a 33-yard field goal with 8:51 left to half and the Coyotes led 24-21 at halftime, but UNI quickly snared the lead in the third quarter and never gave it back.
McElvain hit Weston with 65-yard touchdown on UNI's fourth play of the second half, and the Panthers never trailed again.
"It was something for us as an offense to consistently come back on the field and make something happen ... that is a really good step for us," Weston said.
UNI returns to action next Saturday at Missouri State (1-5, 1-2).