BROOKINGS -- For the second consecutive game, turnovers and inefficiency on offense cost South Dakota State University a win. This time, it also cost them the season.
The No. 7-seeded Jackrabbits raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, but turnovers allowed Northern Iowa to remain in the game and the Panthers pounced.
UNI scored 13 unanswered points, capped by an 18-yard field goal by Matthew Cook with 2 minutes, 10 seconds to play to bounce SDSU in the second round of the FCS playoffs, 13-10, on Saturday at Dykhouse Stadium.
“Give some credit to UNI, they got rid of our offense for three quarters,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “... I would claim that their last two scoring drives were (set up by) big pass plays. Every play can win the football game or lose the football game. I’m diminishing the importance of hanging onto the football, but we’ll see a lot of plays that changed the face.”
Keaton Heide went 7 of 9 passing for 78 yards in the first quarter, including a touchdown strike to Adam Anderson on the first drive of the game. But in the second quarter, SDSU (8-5) committed three consecutive turnovers and ran just eight plays.
Heide was intercepted at the UNI goal line, while running back C.J. Wilson was stripped on the first play of the ensuing drive and a fumble on a punt return allowed the Panthers to keep it a one-score game at halftime despite being held to 54 yards of total offense.
“We just had a tough time holding onto the ball,” said Anderson, a SDSU senior. “We have to clean that up and be more disciplined holding onto the ball. I don’t regret anything playing on that field with those guys, but ball security is the biggest thing.”
UNI erased its first-half offensive woes by marching 75 yards on the opening possession of the second half and punctuating it with a touchdown run by Trevor Allen to tie the game.
Meanwhile, the Jackrabbits could not find their groove, save for a third-quarter drive that was crushed when Ellerson Smith blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt by Chase Vinatieri.
SDSU was held to 53 yards rushing on 23 attempts, while Heide was subsequently limited to 14 of 27 passing for 167 yards. The Panthers credited changing from a three-man front to a four-man front after SDSU racked up 337 yards in a 38-7 romp on Nov. 16, but Stiegelmeier disagreed.
“They blitzed a little more in the second half,” Stiegelmeier said. “Their four-man front was easier to scheme against than the three-man front because we hardly ever see the three-man front. They just maybe won the line of scrimmage more than we did.”
As SDSU struggled offensively, the defense was stout for all but two drives in the game. The Jackrabbits recorded five sacks -- 2.5 from Ryan Earith -- and held the Panthers to 238 yards of offense for the game.
But on the go-ahead drive, UNI quarterback Will McElvain escaped for a 31-yard scramble and then narrowly evaded the grasp of Christian Rozeboom on another third-down scramble. Had Rozeboom hauled him down, the Panthers would have been in a punting predicament, rather than a manageable fourth-and-1.
McElvain eventually connected with Suni Lane on a 31-yard pass-and-catch to the 5-yard line. that set up the deciding field goal. Stiegelmeier felt SDSU played well enough on defense to win the game.
“If we grab cloth on that sack at the end of the game, they punt the football,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s a game of inches, and it’s funny, but those inches didn’t go our way today.”
UNI (10-4) travels to No. 2 James Madison for the FCS quarterfinals on Dec. 13 or 14. The Dukes were 66-21 winners over Monmouth on Saturday.