CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (USD) — Isaiah Weston had 189 yards receiving, Tyler Hoosman ran for 111 yards and Northern Iowa forced six turnovers to get past South Dakota 42-27 Saturday before a crowd of 10,201 inside the UNI-Dome.
The Coyotes (3-4, 2-1 MVFC), who suffered their first Missouri Valley Football Conference loss, enjoyed a 24-21 halftime lead before redshirt freshman quarterback Will McElvain teamed up with Weston on touchdown strikes of 65 and 54 yards in the third quarter to give the 14th-ranked Panthers a 35-24 lead they never relinquished.
South Dakota senior quarterback Austin Simmons completed 26 of 43 passes for 299 yards and threw first-half touchdowns to receiver Billy Conaway (56 yards) and tight end Austin Goehring (10 yards). It was the first collegiate touchdowns for both players and for Conaway, a true freshman, it came on his first collegiate catch.
The Coyotes accumulated 422 yards of total offense in 91 plays – 36 more plays than UNI. They became the first opponent to score more than 14 points inside the UNI-Dome this season. But the Coyotes’ season-high six turnovers, coupled with Weston’s big plays in the passing game determined the outcome.
Weston, the Valley’s top receiver entering the weekend, caught four passes for a career-high 189 yards. In addition to the two long bombs, he caught a 62-yard pass that setup his own 8-yard touchdown catch early in the first quarter that tied the game at 7-7. UNI’s other big play came on its next drive when McElvain broke through the line and scampered 70 yards to set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Hoosman that tied the game at 14-14.
Outside of those four big plays, UNI had 51 other snaps of the football that netted 164 yards. The Coyote defense produced four sacks and seven tackles-for-loss. Kameron Cline stripped UNI running back Trevor Allen on the Panthers’ second snap of the game and Jack Cochrane recovered at the UNI 27. Five plays later, Kai Henry rumbled in from 7 yards out for a 7-0 USD lead.
Of South Dakota’s six turnovers, just one led directly to Panther points, and the Coyote defense never got a chance on that one. Austin Evans, a defensive back in a five DB alignment, jumped an inside pass for an interception and ran 16 yards for a UNI touchdown that tied the game at 21-21. Henry, who was trailing the play, got into a scuffle in the end zone and was assessed a flagrant penalty that disqualified him from play. South Dakota’s leading rusher entering play, Henry carried five times for 24 yards and the score before exiting 16 minutes into the contest.
UNI ran 17 plays on the five drives following South Dakota turnovers. They netted minus-2 yards and one turned into Mark Collins Jr.’s second interception of the season.
Caleb Vander Esch led South Dakota receivers for the fifth game in a row. He caught a game-high six passes for 73 yards. He was one of 11 Coyotes who caught a pass from Simmons. Canaan Brooks led USD in rushing with 14 carries and 45 yards.
South Dakota defensive end Darin Greenfield netted his 51st career tackle-for-loss, breaking the Coyotes’ all-time record held by Bill Gassen since 2002.
Trailing 35-24 in the third quarter, Simmons might have been at his best, engineering a 17-play, 62-yard driving that consumed 7 minutes and 24 seconds. But UNI’s defense tightened inside the 10 and USD settled for a 30-yard Mason Lorber field goal that made it 35-27 with :33 remaining in the third quarter.
South Dakota had its comeback hopes dashed in the fourth quarter after failing to convert a pair of fourth downs.
Early in the fourth quarter, USD came up short on a 4th-and-1 situation at the UNI 39 when Brooks was stuffed for a 4-yard loss after taking a pitch from Simmons.
UNI then sealed the game with 3:29 left when defensive end Elerson Smith sacked Simmons for a 9-yard loss on a 4th-and-6 play from the UNI 23 with 3:29 remaining.
South Dakota returns to Vermillion to host Southern Illinois at 4 p.m. Saturday inside the DakotaDome. The Salukis pulled a 35-10 upset of 18th-ranked Youngstown State Saturday and will enter with a 3-4 record overall and a 1-2 mark inside the conference.