Jacks fall to Panthers 24-14, move to 0-4 for the first time since 1969

Drue Aman

Drue AmanSports Editor

SDSU failed to score in the first half for the fourth consecutive game and fall to 0-4 for the first time since 1969.

It seemed like the microcosm of SDSU’s season showed itself on three separate drives Saturday.

In other words, they perpetually found ways to squander scoring opportunities. Five of those opportunities inside Northern Iowa territory. And this time, it might mean any chance at the postseason effectively erased.

No. 17 Northern Iowa scored a late touchdown on an unexpected pass play, surprising the Jacks defense and sealing a win against still winless SDSU Saturday in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

It was not the result of an ineffective running game, total passing yards, pass defense or a lack of spirit. The Jacks committed nine penalties, turned the ball over four times, and failed to capitalize on scoring chances inside the redzone.

Actually, SDSU did punch in a field goal from 41 yards out to take a temporary 3-0 lead. That score was negated by an illegal formation penalty. The next try was blocked.

“We made way too many errors to think we had a chance to win that football game,” said Jacks head coach John Stiegelmeier. “But for some reason, we kept battling.”

They did battle – in fact – SDSU had every possibility to enter halftime with a lead. Kicker Kyle Harris’ blocked 46-yard field goal attempt and sophomore quarterback Thomas O’Brien’s errant pass in the endzone could have just as easily been converted to points. Those shortcomings kept SDSU scoreless in the first half, a half the Jacks have yet to score a point in. They have been outscored 58-0 in the game’s first 30 minutes.

“It comes down to execution, we had opportunities to make plays,” said quarterback Thomas O’Brien, who finished with 230 passing yards and two touchdown passes. “We had another good gameplan, a great gameplan … everybody has a job, and it just hasn’t come together yet.”

In terms of total yards, Saturday’s game should have came down to the last second. But the Jacks had 65 yards in penalties, turned the ball over four times and allowed two 100+ yard rushers on the day.

“They play tough football, they play sound football … they play so sound that they let you beat yourself,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “But today we did a good job, we were fighting a lot of demons besides the ones just on the field.”

The Jacks appeared to have a shot at a comeback despite its foibles. A nine-play, 77-yard drive that included a 25-yard Kyle Minett rush and an 18-yard catch-and-run by tight end Colin Cochart to the one-yard line drove the score to 17-14 with less than three minutes to play in the fourth.

Northern Iowa received the ball and benefited from blown coverage in the SDSU secondary for a 44-yard heave by quarterback Tirrell Rennie to Schuylar Oordt for a touchdown, elating the 14,686 fans and punctuating SDSU’s fifth-consecutive loss dating back to last season.

“I said to them, “keep your heads up,'” Stiegelmeier said about his message to his team following the loss. “We attempt to be 1-0 every week, and we’ve got a good week ahead of us against a really good football team, Western Illinois – we need to put this behind this.”

SDSU will face the conference-leading Leathernecks – ranked No. 20 in the FCS coaches poll – in SDSU’s second home game at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium Oct. 9.

Western Illinois is not the team it was a year ago, when they lost 10 straight games after beginning the season 1-0. Their only loss – a 31-21 decision against the Purdue Boilermakers of the Big Ten – has been followed by three straight wins that include a double-digit victory on the road against North Dakota State.

“We’ll learn from our mistakes, forget about this and try to get a win,” said runningback Minett, who eclipsed the 400 yard rushing mark through four games on Saturday. “We’ll try to get a win at home; We’ll never give up.”

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#1.1668984:1994232816.jpg:Football-1-Color-Robby-Gallagher.jpg:Kyle Minett dodges Aaron Rollin in Cedar Falls. ?We?ll try to get a win at home; we?ll never give up,? Minett said.:Collegian Photo by Robby Gallagher