Time of day, Cook gets record and Panthers hold on to playoff hopes

With their playoff hopes headed into the final game of the 2022 regular season, the Northern Iowa Panthers beat the South Dakota Coyotes 58-14.

And it wasn’t even that close, as the discrepancy of 44 points showed.

49 of the UNI points came in the first half, 42 of them from starting quarterback Theo Day. The Panthers not only met early and often. You scored ridiculous early and often.

Day threw his first three touchdown passes in the first quarter.

The first touchdown came with a 7-yard throw to tight end Layne Prior for his first hit in purple and gold, the second came with a 37-yard ball down the middle to Sergio Morancy sophomore, and the third was a Darted at Sam Schnee on the other touchline before clipping back to the opposite side of the field and hitting from 35 yards.

Day finished the first quarter 9-11 for 202 yards and those three touchdowns — not to mention a 326.1 QBR.

“Theo Day makes the difference,” said coach Mark Farley. “It’s grown exponentially. … There is a significant difference from our last game last year to this game today.”

If things hadn’t gone wrong after the first 15 minutes, they definitely would have made it in the second quarter.

Just 39 seconds later, Day took the ball to the left side of his offensive line in an option play for his fourth touchdown of the half. After an interception from Woo Governor (his fourth in 2022), senior running back Vance McShane galloped untouched 18 yards into the end zone to go 35-0 with a 12-51 lead before halftime.

Things just kept going for UNI as Travis Theis bungled the ensuing kickoff and Day just two games and 49 seconds later took Kansas’ Quan Hampton for 42-0 with an 11-yard score.

“I’m very happy with (the team) because they were well prepared,” said Farley. “It’s what you should look like after an open date and of course we’re playing some really good football.”

Before the end of the half, USD added a score of their own, and then Day found Noah Abbott for his sixth and final touchdown of the afternoon. Abbott’s first career touchdown as a Panther gave UNI a 49-7 lead at halftime.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our offense,” senior linebacker Bryce Flater said after the game. “It was fun to watch.”

The second half wasn’t quite as explosive, but it was record-breaking.

On the first drive of the third quarter, junior Matthew Cook officially set the Missouri Valley Football Conference and UNI career record for field goals by hitting a 26-yarder and hitting 65. He passed previous leader Billy Hallgren of Putte 64 between 2006 and 2010.

“It was good to come here and do what I did, to have all these opportunities that I had,” Cook said after the game. “It was amazing.”

Cook added one of 36 and another of 37 before the end of the competition, bringing his career tally to 67. The USD offense added another touchdown to make the final 58-14. Day finished the contest with 21 completions for 380 yards and six totals.

The UNI defense conceded just 236 total yards, much of which came in the second half.

“We knew we had to come out and start fast,” Flater said. “We’re in a position (to play) like we’re in the playoffs right now. We knew we had to win big to possibly make the playoffs.”

After the win, Coach Farley and the Panthers will wait to watch the FCS Playoff Selection Show on ESPNU at 11:30 a.m. CT to see if their 6-5 record is good enough to earn them a spot in the 2022 bracket to secure.

“I think (the committee) will take four from (the MVFC),” Farley said after the game. “If there are four of them going then I hope we’ll be the fourth team.”

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