The Jackrabbit football team hosted their home opener against the Northern Iowa Panthers in front of 10,844 fans on a chilly Saturday night in Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. For the second year in a row the Jacks (0-3 0-0 GWFC) team had UNI (3-0) on the ropes after the first half, only to let the lead slip through their fingers in the second. This year was a 31-17 setback. “It was kinda like the same game like last year,” UNI quarterback Eric Sanders said. “We stayed poised at halftime, regrouped and just played UNI football in the second half.”
The Panthers took the opening drive and went 75 yards on nine plays, eating up just under four minutes on the clock. The Panthers used a steady mixture of quick passes and runs on their drive with running back Corey Lewis scoring from seven yards out to make the score 7-0. The Jacks returned the blow quickly. On the second play of their opening possession, Ryan Berry found his wide receiver down the sideline for a 57-yard touchdown pass. Two plays later Tyler Koch intercepted a tipped pass from Eric Sanders on the SDSU 45 and the Jacks were in business again.
Aided by a personal foul from UNI the Jacks moved into UNI territory. A 19-yard reception by Chris Doblar on a third and seven moved the Jacks inside the Panthers 20. Facing a fourth and two from the nine-yard line, the Jacks elected to go for it and Cory Koenig fell ahead for the first down. Two plays later, Koenig scored from two yards out and just like that the Jacks were ahead 14-7.
A blocked field goal by Danny Batten gave the Jacks the ball back but they couldn’t do anything with it. Dean Priddy came on to punt the ball away from the Panthers, but his punt was horrendous, only going 17 yards and giving UNI good field position. UNI marched down the field on 12 plays, again using a steady mixture of short passes and runs, and again were capped by Lewis. This time he ran it in from five yards out. Thanks to a high snap on the extra point, the most overlooked thing in a football game, the Jacks were able to maintain their lead at 14-13. Another short punt from Priddy would give UNI another short field right before half but the Jacks special teams again stepped up, blocking another field goal, (this time by Eric Schroeder) and the Jacks took a 14-13 lead into half.
The Jacks were not able to do anything with their opening drive of the second half; another horrible punt from Priddy would give the Panthers good field position for the third time in a row. This time they were able to take advantage of it. Sanders hit on all five of his passes on the drive and Lewis scored his third touchdown of the night, UNI made the two-point conversion to take a 21-14 lead. The second half domination by UNI was on.
“In the second half we would move the ball a little bit and then have a penalty, or a sack or a loss of five yards,” Berry said. “We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot-it just kept getting worse and worse.”
The Panthers tacked on a field goal later in the third quarter using two big plays. The first was a 31-yard pass from Sanders to Johnny Gray, which was followed by a 60-yard pass from Sanders to Lewis. “The receivers played tremendous,” Sanders said. “They found open spots in the zone, they made runs after the catch, they came up big when we needed them to on third down.”
The Panthers added another touchdown early in the fourth quarter, this time with Sanders going in from 11 yards out to make the score 31-14. Parker Douglass finished the scoring for the game with a 37-yard field goal. On the ensuing kick off the Jacks recovered the on-side kick twice, only to have it brought back due to an SDSU player being offside each time.
“South Dakota State is a heck of a football team. They just played the heck out of us,” said UNI head coach Mark Farley. “That is a big team and a well-coached football team.”
Berry completed 16 of 25 passes for 183 yards and one touchdown, while Sanders finished 27-32, including 19 consecutive passes at one point, for 330 yards passing. Koenig and Kyle Minett would lead the Jacks ground attack with 52 and 45 yards rushing respectively. Lewis went for 125 yards on the ground for UNI. Lewis also led the Panthers aerial attack, catching 10 passes for 164 yards while Harris paced the Jacks, catching 5 passes for 91 yards.
“Stuff’s gotta change, whether it be working harder in practice, I dunno, but we gotta start winning, we’re gonna win,” said senior linebacker Justin Kubesh. Kubesh and the Jacks return to the field against Texas State Saturday night at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
#1.883299:1513160791.jpg:football_touchdowncatch_EL.jpg:JaRon Harris looks behind for a Northern Iowa defender on his way to the end zone on a 57-yard pass from Ryan Berry in first quarter action.:Eric Landwehr/University Relations