No. 2 North Dakota State escapes UNI-Dome in Panthers’ regular-season finale

JIM NELSON [email protected]

CEDAR FALLS – Three big plays by Christian Watson helped second-ranked North Dakota State escape Northern Iowa, 23-20, Saturday in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game at the UNI-Dome.

Watson had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Bison (6-1) a 7-6 lead in the second quarter and then a 61-yard catch at the end of the half to set up a field goal. Finally, Watson’s 25-yard catch on a third-and-eight play set up NDSU’s final score in the fourth quarter that made it 23-12.

“He has the ability to make explosive plays, not only from an offensive standpoint but from a special teams’ standpoint,” NDSU head coach Matt Entz said. “We have to find more and more ways to get him the ball.”

In all, Watson’s big plays helped the Bison to their seventh consecutive win over the Panthers and effectively end UNI’s 2021 season.

“It was the explosive plays that showed up,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “No. 1 is a heck of a ball player for them. It is the explosive plays that got us. That kickoff return hurt the most.”

UNI will finish 3-4 with the four losses by a combined 15 points.

Farley commended his team which was down 25 players for the game, plus the five who either transferred or declared for the NFL draft prior to the fall.

Saturday, UNI had only three defensive linemen suit up with offensive guard Hayden Amos filling in at defensive tackle for several plays after practicing once at that position prior to game.

Starting defensive ends Brawntae Wells and Caden Houghtelling along with starting defensive tackle Tim Butcher all were in street clothes against the Bison.

“What I saw today is great spirit by our team,” Farley said. “I’m really proud of how our football team played.”

The Panthers had a shot at the end. A huge 39-yard catch by Deion McShane set up Tyler Hoosman’s second 1-yard touchdown run with 2:47 left in the game. Will McElvain then completed a 2-point conversion to Sam Schnee to make it 23-20.

UNI’s onside kick was unsuccessful, but the Panthers forced NDSU to punt and Garret Wegner’s punt died at the Panther 4. With 96 yards to go and no timeouts remaining, UNI saw its comeback chances go away when a fourth-and-one pass by McElvain, as he was falling to the turf, landed incomplete.

“It is tough,” said linebacker Spencer Cuvelier who led the Panthers with 12 tackles. “We were so close. We battled off butts off, the whole team. You guys could probably see we were down a couple guys and despite that we still kept fighting and fighting. We got it close at the end.

“We did just about all we could. It was a couple mistakes and a couple of explosive plays.

NDSU led 10-6 at halftime.

After the Bison missed a 32-yard field goal late in the first quarter, UNI drove 66 yards in 14 plays and got a 31-yard field goal from Matthew Cook to take a 3-0 lead with 11:41 left in the second.

The Panthers got two key third-down conversions on pass plays from McElvain to Logan Wolf for 13, and McElvain to Tyler Hoosman for 15 to extend the drive.

UNI turned a short field into a 35-yard field goal from Cook to go up 6-0, with 3:32 left to half but the Bison scored twice in the closing minutes on a pair of big plays from Watson.

Watson fielded Cook’s ensuing kickoff after the second field and sliced through UNI’s kick coverage outracing a pair of Panthers for the 100-yard kickoff return.

The Panthers responded by driving to the Bison 45 with 1:13 left but Farley elected to punt on a fourth down and less than a yard. Three plays later, Watson got open over the middle for a 61-yard gain to set up a Jake Reinholz 42-yard field goal as first-half clock expired.

“No,” Farley said if he thought about going for it. “We were playing such good defense right there. If I go for it they are in field goal range with a couple of first downs. If I don’t go for it and pin them down they have to go the length of the field with not many seconds left on the clock.

“They made the big play on the throw…made a play. We came back and made three plays and they end up with just three points.”

NDSU extended its lead to 17-6 when Josh Babicz hauled in a 36-yard score with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.

UNI answered when McElvain hit Logan Wolf with a 41-yard bomb to set up a Hoosman 1-yard plunge with 13:16 left in the fourth. Wolf led UNI with four catches for 82 yards, while Hoosman carried the ball 23 times for 70 yards and had two catches for 23.

Trailing 17-12, the Panthers watched as NDSU went on a 12-play, 71-yard drive that ate up 6:59 of the fourth to go up 23-12.

UNI continued to fight, but in the end Watson and the Bison walked out victors.

“It is obviously disappointing,” said McElvain who completed 14 of 27 passes for 193 yards in his first action after missing two weeks for COVID protocols and another week when UNI’s game at South Dakota was canceled last week. “It was a tough ending, but this is something we can work with going forward.”

NDSU 23, UNI 20

North Dakota St. 0 10 7 6 — 23

Northern Iowa 0 6 0 14 — 20

Second quarter

UNI – Cook 31 FG, 11:41. (Scoring drive: 14 plays, 66 yards, 6:43)

UNI – Cook 35 FG, 3:32. (Scoring drive: 9 plays, 40 yards, 5:08).

NDSU – Watson 100 kickoff return (Reinholz kick), 3:20.

NDSU – Reinholz 43 FG, :00. (Scoring drive: 8 plays, 64-yards, 1:06).

Third quarter

NDSU – Babicz 36 pass from Noland (Reinholz kick), :29. (Scoring drive: 2 plays, 41 yards, :41).

Fourth quarter

UNI – Hoosman 1 run (pass failed), 13:16. (Scoring drive: 7 plays, 65 yards, 2:13).

NDSU – Luepke 2 run (pass failed), 6:17. (Scoring drive: 12 plays, 71 yards, 6:59)

UNI – Hoosman 1 run (Schnee pass from McElvain), 2:47. (Scoring drive: 11 plays. 75 yards, 3:30).



First downs 15 15

Rushes-yards 41-155 39-98

Passing yards 154 193

Comp-Att-Int 8-17-0 14-27-0

Return yards 36 8

Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 7-75 4-25

Time-of-possession 29:16 30:44



NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Luepke 19-95, Gonnella 10-30, Watson 3-19, Nolan 4-10, Miler 2-9, Bussey 1-2.

NORTHERN IOWA — Hoosman 23-70, McElvain 15-24, Trennan 1-4.


NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Noland 8-16-0-154 yards, Miller 0-1-0-0.

NORTHERN IOWA — McElvain 14-27-0-193 yards.


NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Babicz 3-52, Watson 2-86, Brozio 1-9, Gonnella 1-4, Luepke 1-3.

NORTHERN IOWA — Wolf 4-82, Phillips 4-23, McShane 3-60, Hoosman 2-23, Hampton 1-4.

Tackles (Solo-Asst.-Total)

NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Kaczor 10-3-13, Mostaert 6-1-7, Tutsie 4-1-5, Thomas 3-2-5, Talbert 3-1-4.

NORTHERN IOWA — Cuvelier 1-11-12, Lambert 4-4-8, Van Whye 5-2-7, Brekke 4-3-7, Brinkman 4-3-7.

Tackles for loss

NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Mostaert 3-14, Thomas 2-13, Kaczor 1-1, Cing 1-2.

NORTHERN IOWA — Lambert 1-8, Brekke 1-9.


NORTH DAKOTA STATE — Mostaert 2-13, Thomas 1-8.

NORTHERN IOWA — Lambert 1-8.