Panthers lose heartbreaker to SDSU in season opener


Toni Fortmann

UNI graduate transfer running Dom Williams carries the ball with offensive linemen Erik Sorensen leading the way. Williams, a transfer from the University of Kansas, ran for 35 yards in the Panther’s 24-20 loss to SDSU last Friday.


The UNI football team played their season opener this past Friday night after the season was pushed to the spring due to the coronavirus. The past year has been extremely abnormal, so it would be fitting to have several differences in this football season. With the game being played on a Friday night instead of the usual Saturday for college football, and the fact that the UNI-Dome was at limited capacity, the kickoff to the season was definitely out of the ordinary.

“The feeling was like wow, we are finally getting to play so it didn’t matter the time of the year… The stands looked more full than I thought they would be so that was nice… (and) it was nice to see a big group of students behind the bench,” said UNI linebacker Riley Van Wyhe.

UNI was matched up with MVFC foe South Dakota State in a matchup of top-5 ranked FCS teams. The Panthers ended SDSU’s season last year in the second round of the playoffs, defeating the Jackrabbits 13-10.

Many expected a close, competitive game, and this one was tight between the two teams the entire time. The Jackrabbits struck first with a 24 yard field goal after an eight-play, 72 yard drive. The Panthers answered on the ensuing drive with a touchdown to take the lead off of a Will McElvain seven yard scramble.

SDSU answered back in the second quarter with two touchdowns, the first being a six yard pass from true freshman quarterback Mark Gronowski to Jaxon Janke. UNI had their punt blocked on the next possession, giving SDSU the ball on the five yard line and allowing them to punch it in again, taking a 17-7 lead at halftime.

The Panthers came out of the second half with lots of adjustments made and cut into the Jackrabbit lead. Sophomore kicker Matthew Cook booted a 43-yard field goal on a nine play, 41 yard drive to make the score 17-10.

With the UNI defense staying strong and stopping the Jackrabbits, they regained possession and added another field goal from Cook, making the score 17-13.

With six minutes left in the fourth quarter, quarterback Will McElvain threw a touchdown to freshman Tysen Kershaw, giving the Panthers a 20-17 lead and their first lead of the night.

SDSU regained possession following the UNI score. With good clock management and consistent ball movement, the Jackrabbits were able to march down the field and take the lead off a touchdown pass from Gronowski to running back Pierre Strong with 19 seconds to play. The game ended with SDSU on top, 24-20.

UNI had done well on adjusting on defense in the second half, according to Van Whye: “Defensively it was getting adjusted to the speed of the game from not playing so long; it took us a few series to get adjusted. Then tackling is always a big concern for the first game because during practice (we) don’t have opportunities to do live tackling.”

The Panthers travel to Youngstown, Ohio to play Youngstown State next Saturday, Feb. 27. They return home to the UNIDome on March 6 against Illinois State