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College Football: UNI opens playoffs with victory over San Diego, 17-3

This news story was published on December 1, 2019.
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CEDAR FALLS – On a day when the Panther offense failed to find a rhythm, the UNI defense came up big, forcing four turnovers including an interception returned for a touchdown to help UNI defeat San Diego 17-3 and advance to the second round of the FCS Championship.

The game started with a bang. UNI scored first on a Brawntae Wells 34-yard interception return for a touchdown on San Diego’s first drive of the game. USD Reid Sinnett attempted a pass in the flat and Wells picked the ball off with nothing but green grass in front of him. He put the Panthers up 7-0 with

Omar Brown grabbed another interception early in the second quarter, but UNI could not capitalize with points. On the next UNI drive, the Panthers drove to the San Diego 11-yard line before turning over the ball. San Diego scored their lone points on a 33-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter to cut the Panther lead to 7-3 at the break.

The game remained in question most of the second half despite a ferocious defensive effort by UNI. The Panthers held the vaunted San Diego offense to just 13 yards in the third quarter and without a first down. In the fourth, the Toreros tallied 60 yards and two first downs but gave up two turnovers.

The Panthers extended the lead to 10-3 with a 39-yard field goal with 8:25 to play in the game.

With 2:57 remaining in the game, Christian Jegen intercepted a tipped pass from Sinnett and returned the ball to the USD seven-yard line. On the ensuing play, Trevor Allen went five yards into the end zone for the touchdown to put UNI up 17-3.

San Diego gave up a turnover on a fumble recovery by Spencer Cuvelier that he returned to the USD 18-yard line. The drive ended in a missed field goal attempt before the Toreros took over. San Diego could not gain a first down and the Panthers kneeled out the game.

Along with the turnovers, the Panthers defense had 9.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Bryce Flater tallied a team-high 10 tackles. Jegen ended with seven total tackles, 0.5 TFLs, the forced fumble, the 52-yard interception return and a pass breakup.

Elerson Smith did not record a sack, but he ended the game with 1.5 TFLs and four QB hits.

Will McElvain was 13-27 for 186 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown for just the second time this season, but avoided pressure and was not sacked. He ran for 34 yards on nine carries.

Allen ran for 46 yards and a score. Aaron Graham tallied four catches for 45 yards. Isaiah Weston had two catches for 58 yards.

The win propels UNI to the second round of the FCS playoffs for the fifth time in five playoff appearances since the field expanded to 24 teams in 2013. The Panthers face a well-known opponent in MVFC foe South Dakota State. The Panthers and Jackrabbits met once this season, a 38-7 win for SDSU in Brookings.

–    The Panthers are 5-0 in playoff-opening rounds since the field expanded to 24 teams in 2013.

–    UNI won its first FCS Playoff game for the 17th time in 21 FCS Playoff Appearances.

–    Mark Farley is now 16-11 all-time in the FCS Playoffs. He is now tied for fourth all-time in FCS Playoff wins. He also has the most among active FCS coaches.
1.    Jim Tressel – Youngstown St. (23)
2.    Jerry Moore – Appalachian St. (22)
3.    Chris Klieman – North Dakota St. (18)
t4.    Mark Farley – UNI (16)
t4.    Erk Russell – Georgia State (16)

–    Mark Farley is now 60-11 in November games during his tenure at UNI.

–    The Panthers are now 20-5 in postseason games in the UNI-Dome.

–    The Panthers are undefeated in the dome so far this season. UNI went without a home loss 11 previous times since its construction in 1976. UNI went unbeaten in 1985 (7-0), 1990 (6-0), 1991 (6-0), 1992 (8-0), 1993 (6-0), 1996 (8-0), 1999 (6-0), 2000 (5-0), 2001 (6-0), 2004 (7-0) and 2010 (6-0).

–    The Panthers now have 29 takeaways on the year, including 12 fumble recoveries and 17 interceptions.

–    UNI gave up the fewest points in UNI playoff history. It is the first time that the opposing team failed to score a touchdown. The Panthers held their opponents to just seven points twice. Against Monmouth in 2017 and against McNeese State in 1992.

–  UNI held USD to the lowest score since they fell to NDSU 38-3 on Dec. 2, 2017.

– UNI also held San Diego to 213 yards. Its lowest offensive yard output since the NDSU game in 2017 and 200 yards fewer than their previous best output.

–    The Panthers have 95 TFLs for the season, which is fourth in UNI history behind the 2005 team (97).

The Panthers travel to face South Dakota State for the second time this season and the second time in Brookings. UNI faced the SDSU in the playoffs in 2017 and fell 37-22.

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