Montana Escapes UNI-Dome With Victory Over Panthers
The first two weeks of the college football season have been an emotional roller-coaster ride for the UNI Panthers.
One week after a thrilling 25-20 road victory at Iowa State that made Mark Farley the winningest head coach in program history, the third-ranked Panthers felt the sting of a 20-14 loss to No. 14 Montana after they sputtered in their home-opener at the UNI-Dome on Saturday (Sept. 10, 2016).
“Disappointment, frustration,” is how Farley summed up the game in his post-game press conference. “We had our opportunities. We had some huge opportunities. We had a lot of big plays we left on the field and a lot of opportunities to score. The frustration and the disappointment go together.”
The box score shows that UNI (1-1) beat the Grizzlies (2-0) in every statistical category -- except the one that counts. An offense that totaled 367 yards against the Cyclones, was less than productive on Saturday as the Panthers struggled with consistency when they had the ball.
UNI also gave up an 81-yard punt return for touchdown in the second quarter that ultimately proved to be the winning score for Montana.
Quarterback Aaron Bailey finished the game 16-37-0 for 194 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for eight yards. Tyvis Smith racked up 130 yards on the ground, while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Daurice Fountain led the Panthers in receiving, finishing the game with 97 yards and a touchdown.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior Karter Schult tied his career-high in tackles with 10, while also tying the school record for tackles-for-loss in a game with 5.5. A.J. Allen added a career-high seven along with Hezekiah Applegate, who pitched in an additional seven tackles and a sack.
Montana jumped on the scoreboard first, taking a 7-0 lead with 11:52 left in the first quarter. Grizzly quarterback Brady Gustafson found Josh Horner wide open on the sideline for a 34-yard passing touchdown, ending a five-play, 62-yard drive that burned 1:41 off the clock.
The visitors added to their lead at the 8:20 mark on Tim Semenza's 47-yard field goal, which gave Montana a 10-0 advantage.
UNI found some offensive rhythm on a nine-play, 63-yard drive midday through the first quarter. Smith found the end zone on the back end of a one-yard rush that cut the deficit to 10-7 with at the 3:56 mark. Smith and Bailey combined for 48 rushing yards on the drive.
The Grizzlies and Panthers started a defensive battle in the second quarter that included Schult grabbing two key sacks to keep Montana off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, UNI failed to make tackles on special teams, allowing Jerry Louie-McGee to score an 81-yard punt return, putting the Grizzlies up 17-7 with 7:07 left to play in the half.
Montana later increased its lead to 13-points on Semenza's second field goal of the game. The 35-yard kick at the 2:38 mark gave the Grizzlies a 20-7 lead at halftime.
Two of the "huge opportunities" that Farley referred to were in the second quarter. Austin Errthum missed a 33-yard field goal early in the first half that would have tied the game at 10-all. On the previous drive, the Panthers failed to score when they went for a fourth-and-goal at the Montana two-yard-line.
“When we didn’t get the touchdown on the 2-yard line, that was the killer,” Farley said.
The teams were scoreless in the third quarter, but UNI broke the drought in the fourth. The Panthers scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass from Bailey to Fountain, cutting Montana's lead to 20-14 and setting the final score.
UNI's defensive effort was outstanding in the second half. The unit limited Montana to just three first downs on seven drives. The Panthers limited the Grizzlies' high-powered offense to just 206 total yards.
UP NEXT: UNI faces another rated team from the Big Sky Conference on Saturday (Sept. 17), when the Panthers face No. 8 Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash. The game is scheduled to start at 6 p.m.-CT.