CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (USD) — The No. 21 ranked South Dakota football team capitalized on No. 16/17 Northern Iowa’s miscues in earning its first win inside the UNI-Dome since 2013 with Saturday’s 34-21 Missouri Valley Football Conference victory.
The Coyotes, getting off to a hot start in the first half, scored points off two Panthers turnovers while also capitalizing on a blocked punt from its special teams and turning that into seven points.
South Dakota, using a strong running game in the contest to control time of possession, improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in MVFC play. UNI, meanwhile, falling for the second straight game while outgaining its opponent, fell to 3-3 overall and 1-2 in league play.
The Coyotes rushed 51 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns behind the 1-2 tandem of Travis Theis, who surpassed 100 yards for the second straight game, and Nate Thomas.
“Really proud of our football team, that’s a really good win,” coach Bob Nielson said. “You beat a really good football team when you beat Northern Iowa and to do it on the road.
“We talked during the week, last couple of times we played them we turned the ball over a bunch, we knew we weren’t going to be able to do that today. We kind of flipped the scales there, took advantage of some short fields and got the lead.”
The initial scoring started because of a strong play from the South Dakota special teams in the first quarter.
Caleb Vander Esch got his hands on a punt inside the UNI 20-yard line and the subsequent recovery and return from Jailen Holman set up the Coyotes with a first-and-10 at the UNI 13-yard line.
Carson Camp found Carter Bell for the five-yard touchdown reception on third down as South Dakota to a 7-0 lead.
Jack Cochrane, who had two interceptions in the game, had his first on the very next Northern Iowa offensive play and his 22-yard return set up Theis for a four-yard touchdown run to give the visitors a 14-0 lead.
Camp, who was 16 for 21 in the contest for 153 yards and two touchdowns, found tight end JJ Galbreath for a nine-yard score late in the second quarter. Galbreath, a freshman, caught his first pass of the season and first touchdown of his collegiate career to give South Dakota a 21-0 lead.
The Coyotes made it 24-0 at halftime, getting another turnover from their defense, which led to a 31-yard field goal from Mason Lober as time expired. Teven McKelvey delivered a strong hit on a Northern Iowa receiver and the fumble was picked up by Josiah Ganues and returned 65 yards to the UNI 15.
Northern Iowa showed life early in the third quarter, scoring on two straight possessions to cut the lead to 10 points. However, the Coyotes defense would respond, and the offense added another Lober field goal and a rushing touchdown from Thomas in the third quarter to close out the victory.
“What I was most proud of was when we got tested there in the third quarter, our team answered the bell,” said Nielson.
Theis, coming off a career-best 138 yards against North Dakota, logged 21 carries for 113 yards in this contest while Thomas added 59 yards on 14 carries.
Vander Esch had five receptions for 31 yards and Austin Goehring four grabs for 41 yards.
Defensively, Da’Run McKinney had 11 stops and Cochrane nine. Jacob Matthew and Brendan Webb had two sacks apiece for a Coyotes defensive unit that hounded Northern Iowa quarter Theo Day all game long.
South Dakota returns to the DakotaDome for Saturday’s 1 p.m. kickoff against Illinois State.