The 2019 Panther football team fought hard in their season opener against the top 25 ranked Iowa State Cyclones. The Cyclones were given a 93.7 percent chance of winning, according to ESPN.
The Panthers, who were led by a redshirt freshman quarterback, true freshman kicker and a stellar defense quickly proved that they could run with the big dogs of the FBS.
“How about that, that’s two walk-ons (QB Will McElvain and K Matthew Cook) you just watched step up to the plate, and both played very well,” head coach Mark Farley said. “They were young, but you can only use that word once. They were young coming in, but now have to grow because they have that experience.”
McElvain played steady throughout, going 25-42 for 228 yards with one touchdown. His first collegiate touchdown pass showed his escape ability as he evaded three defenders throwing on the run for a 25-yard TD pass to running back Trevor Allen when the Panthers needed a touchdown to tie the game in the second overtime.
True freshman kicker Matthew Cook from Cedar Falls kept the Panthers in the game with four field goals, including a 50 and 49-yard field goal.
The game started out slow as the Purple and Gold allowed just a single field goal through the first half of action.
The Panthers started the second half driving the ball down the field, ultimately settling for a field goal to tie the game as Cook completed his first collegiate kick from 50 yards out. The Cyclones managed to respond with the only offensive touchdown allowed in regulation putting them ahead 10-3.
After Cook landed another field goal to bring the score to 10-6, the Panther defense came up with their biggest play in regulation. Defensive End Elerson Smith forced a strip sack on Iowa State QB Brock Purdy resulting in a 53-yard scoop and score by CB Xavior Williams to put UNI up, 13-10. The Panthers held the lead until the Cyclones knotted the game at 13, heading into overtime.
UNI refused to go down easy as they took Iowa State to three overtime periods. The first overtime ended with a field goal on both sides leaving the score at 16 each. In the second overtime, the Cyclones scored a touchdown putting UNI up against the wall in a “touchdown or go home” situation. Tensions were high on fourth down, but McElvain threw a touchdown pass to Deion McShane that was called back after reviewing that McShane had a knee down.
On the following third and goal, McElvain spun out of pressure twice throwing on the run for a 25-yard TD to Allen. In the third overtime, UNI was able to drive in another field goal, but the Panther defense couldn’t stop the Cyclones from punching it in at the one-yard line for the 29-26 win.
“Moving forward, we can take this game and grow from it,” Farley remarked. “A Tristan Bohr, a [Matthew] Cook and a Will [McElvain], and not accept the fact that they played good because we didn’t come down here to play good. We came down here to win the football game.”
The Panthers will host their first home game of the season on Saturday, Sep. 7 against Southern Utah at 4 p.m in the UNI-Dome.