CARBONDALE, Ill. – UNI kicker Matthew Cook uncharacteristically missed a 30-yard field in the final seconds and the fourth-ranked Panthers fell to Southern Illinois 17-16 Saturday afternoon at Saluki Stadium.
The Panther offense put up 405 yards, its best mark of the year, while the UNI defense held the potent SIU offense to just 17 points, including none in the first half.
UNI drove the length of the field in the final seconds, mainly on the back of a 52-yard reception from Will McElvain to Quan Hampton on fourth and 10 from the UNI 24. The pass gave UNI the ball on the SIU 24 and a pair of runs pushed the ball to the 12-yard line. UNI attempted the kick on second down, but it missed just left.
UNI trailed after giving up 17 points in the second half. The Salukis scored on the first three possessions of the second half, scoring a field goal and two touchdowns on their first three drives.
The Panther defense dominated the first half, keeping the Salukis off of the scoreboard and forcing two turnovers which led to 10 UNI points. The Panther offense was efficient, punting only once and controlling the time of possession.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard first with a 26-yard field goal from Matthew Cook with 4:05 left in the first. The field goal capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive.
SIU was threatening in UNI territory when Omar Brown grabbed his first interception of the season and the seventh of his career. On the ensuing UNI drive, Cook added another field on the Panthers’ ensuing drive, UNI went 7 plays for 76 yards before Cook kicked a 34-yarder to put UNI up 6-0.
Brawntae Wells forced a fumble on a strip-sack and Kaden Houghtelling recovered it on the SIU 23 with 4:06 left in the second quarter to set up the final drive of the half. The Panthers scored with 34 seconds left before the break on a one-yard run by Tyler Hoosman to put UNI up 13-0, the score held until halftime.
Despite the loss, the UNI offense showed some promise with its best yardage outing of the season. McElvain was 10-22 for 254 yards and no interceptions. The Panthers recorded the three longest plays from scrimmage of the year with a 59-yard pass to Deion McShane, the 52-yard strike to Hampton and another 52-yard pass in the first half to Tysen Kershaw.
Hoosman led the rushing attack that gained 151 yards total. He had 73 yards and the lone Panther TD.
The UNI defense was once again solid. Riley Van Wyhe led UNI with 14 tackles, including a tackle for loss. Omar Brown notched seven tackles and the first UNI interception of the season. Houghtelling tallied a sack and a fumble recovery.
UNI returns home for a game against Missouri State on Feb. 20 at 4 p.m. at the UNI-Dome. The Bears are under the tutelage of first-year head coach Bobby Petrino.