First conference loss comes at the hands of Northern Iowa

Marcus Traxler

Entering the game against the University of Northern Iowa at minus-six in turnover margin, one could say SDSU’s continued success was on borrowed time.

Time was up Saturday.

Near the Missouri Valley’s bottom in turnover margin, the problem caught up to them as the Jackrabbits’ two mistakes netted UNI 10 points as the Panthers took care of the Missouri Valley’s leader with relative ease in a 27-6 win Saturday before a crowd of 13,067 at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“I was hoping they were down,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier. “I was hoping they had lost some confidence, but obviously they didn’t.”

The Jackrabbits’ struggles came early and often. After two short completions, J.J. Swain intercepted Austin Sumner’s pass attempt to Aaron Rollin. Two plays later, UNI quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen hit a wide-open Sam Rohr for 40 yards and a touchdown to put the Panthers ahead by seven points.

Later, attempting to get back into the ball game down 24-6, the Jackrabbits’ Brandon Hubert fumbled the ball on the UNI 23-yard line, and the Panthers converted that with a fourth quarter field goal.

“We lost our focus, and they did not,” Stiegelmeier said.

On the flip side, SDSU was unable to shake the previously struggling Panthers, who were, until now, winless in the Valley.

SDSU (5-2, 3-1 Valley) answered the early score with a 14 play drive, covering 64 yards and ending with a 40-yard field goal from Justin Syrovatka with 3:18 left in the first quarter. Kollmorgen — who entered the game with 15 touchdowns on the year — found Brett LeMaster in the corner of the end zone to give UNI a 14-3 lead after one quarter.

After UNI picked up a field goal late in the half — aided by a fake punt — SDSU would answer a UNI field goal with a 27-yard try from Syrovatka at the end of the half, trimming UNI’s lead to a seemingly manageable 11 points at halftime, 17-6.

The Jackrabbits were on the move to cut the margin from 18 points in the third quarter, but Brandon Hubert’s fumble at the UNI 23-yard line was recovered by Northern Iowa, spelling the end of the Jacks’ string of six straight wins over Valley foes and eight against FCS opponents.

“Our guys didn’t handle things not going well,” Stiegelmeier said. “When you don’t come with your game, with your confidence, you leave something to chance.”

UNI made a point of bringing Zach Zenner to the ground, who finished with 20 carries for 112 yards

but without a big run to his name on the night. Zenner’s longest run was 19 yards and his total was a season-low for a second-straight week.

“We felt like we were close all game to busting one as a running back crew,” Zenner said. “But UNI did a good job of making that last tackle or touchdown-saving tackle a couple of times I can remember.”

His opposite number, the Panthers’ David Johnson, was the catalyst for the UNI win, with 27 carries for 121 yards and a third quarter touchdown. Kollmorgen finished the day 13 of 21 passing for 187 yards and two touchdowns.

Sumner’s day finished the game with 18 completions on 28 attempts for 152 yards and one interception.

“It’s not what we had in mind coming in here. We’re going to have to deal with it,” Sumner said. “We’ll bounce back. We’ll be alright.”

The Jackrabbits, who fell out of the polls this week, return to action against No. 22 Youngstown State for Hobo Day. SDSU currently sits in a four-way tie in first place in the Valley, with Indiana State and Southern Illinois at 4-1 in the conference, while SDSU and North Dakota State are 3-1.