Football Bears Drop 38-14 Affair at No. 16 Northern Iowa
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - UNI's Tirrell Rennie and its special teams unit accounted for all five Panther (7-3, 6-1) touchdowns in the football Bears' (4-6, 3-4) 38-14 loss, as UNI clinched the Missouri Valley Football Conference Championship.
Rennie needed only 10 pass attempts, with eight completions, to throw for 161 yards and three touchdowns. The junior also rushed for 75 yards on 15 carries.
The UNI special teams contributed the other two Panther touchdowns after they returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a score and recovered a blocked punt in the end zone late in the first half for a touchdown. The two touchdowns were the first the Bears have allowed on special teams all season.
The Bears outgained the Panthers 355 to 342 total yards, but failed to score on two red zone trips and had another drive stall at the UNI 31. Cody Kirby was 19-25 passing for 210 yards and an interception. He also had a one-yard touchdown run. In the game, he became only the fifth quarterback in MVFC history to throw for more than 8,000 career passing yards.
Chris Douglas had 92 rushing yards and Stephen Johnston had 101 total yards, 64 receiving and 37 rushing, and an 18-yard TD run.
The Panthers jumped out early when Carlos Anderson returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. It was his second kick return for a score this season, the previous, a 99-yarder, coming in the Panthers' 22-20 loss against Stephen F. Austin.
The Bears answered immediately with an impressive, 14-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that consumed 6:34 minutes. Two Cody Kirby quarterback sneaks were key to the drive; one that converted a fourth-and-one and another that punctuated the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge.
The tie did not last long. Two plays and 77 yards later, it was a 14-7 UNI lead. Matt Strathman rushed for 27 yards before Tirrell Rennie connected on a 50-yard touchdown pass to Jarred Herring, who adjusted to make an over-the-shoulder catch behind the defense.
After the teams exchanged three-and-outs, Justin Fuselier sparked the Bears with a 49-yard punt return to the UNI 33. The return was a career-high for Fuselier and the longest by a Bear since Eric Davis went 88 yards in a September 16, 2006 game against Central Arkansas. Three Stephen Johnston carries later and the score was tied at 14-14. Johnston ran nine, six and then 18 yards for the score.
The Panthers regained the lead when Rennie threw his second touchdown pass of the night, this time a 30-yard connection to Maurice Turner. Howard Scarborough had tight coverage in the corner, but the 6-3 Turner outjumped the 5-9 Scarborough to make the grab.
The Bears moved the ball on their ensuing drive, but too many mistakes kept the Bears out of the end zone. On the drive, MSU was called for three holding penalities, one of which negated a Chris Douglas 53-yard touchdown run. It looked as though the Bears would overcome the miscues when Stephen Johnston took a screen pass 46 yards to the UNI 17, but Cody Kirby threw an interception three plays later to give possession back to the Panthers.
The Panthers punted on their next drive and pinned the Bears deep. On third and seven, Kirby was sacked for a loss of eight to the Bears' own 4 yard line. Jordan Chiles' punt was then blocked by UNI's Terrell McBride and recovered in the end zone by J.J. Swain for a Panther touchdown to make the score 28-14 with 2:02 to play in the half.
The Bears were in position to cut into the lead when Kirby started flawlessly on a two-minute drill. He completed his first five passes of the drive to move the ball from the MSU 36 to the UNI 14. After two incomplete passes in the end zone, Kirby found Wooden for an eight-yard gain to the UNI 6, but he could not get out of bounds and the Bears, out of timeouts, could only watch the time expire in the first half and head to the locker room trailing 28-14.
The Bears moved down to the UNI 31 on their second possession after halftime, but the drive stalled when Cody Kirby was sacked for a loss of five yards on fourth and five.
Seven plays later, UNI capitalized on the turnover on downs with Rennie's, who returned from a first-half injury, third touchdown pass of the day and his second hookup to receiver Jarred Herring to make it 35-14. The Panthers converted their only third down of the drive when Rennie threw a strike to Maurice Turner for a gain of eight when they needed seven.
UNI's Billy Halllgren capped the game's scoring with 8:58 remaining in the fourth quarter with a 31-yard field goal on a 13-play, 49-yard drive.
The Bears close out their season at home with a Nov. 20 meeting against North Dakota State. The Senior Day game is a 1:00 p.m. start.