Northern Iowa advances with 29-17 win over Portland State – USA TODAY
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Quarterback Aaron Bailey rushed for 200 yards, including touchdowns from 61 and 69 yards out, and Northern Iowa beat the Portland State Vikings 29-17 in a second-round FCS playoff game on Saturday night.
Tyvis Smith rushed for 207 yards and two more scores in a steady rain for the Panthers’ seventh straight victory.
“Great time to have two 200-yard rushers, in a game like this,” Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said.
Northern Iowa (9-4) will go on to face the four-time FCS champions North Dakota State in the quarterfinals. The Bison defeated Montana 37-6 earlier in the day, scoring on two interception returns and a 100-yard kickoff return.
Portland State (9-3), which had a first-round bye as the sixth seed, could not get its distinctive offense going and fell behind 16-3 after the first half.
Alex Kuresa threw for 105 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings, who were making the program’s second trip to the playoffs. Going in, Portland State was ranked No. 5 in the STATS Top 25, while the Panthers came in at No. 15.
“We told our guys, if we can keep him in the pocket we have a chance to win the game,” Farley said about Kuresa. “If he gets out, he’s going to cause a problem. When he did, he moved the chains, and got them back in the game.”
Northern Iowa, which went 5-2 against ranked opponents this season and finished 5-3 in the powerful Missouri Valley Conference, beat Eastern Illinois 53-17 in the first round of the playoffs.
“This is the farthest I’ve ever been in my life,” Smith said about the Panthers’ run into the quarterfinals. “It’s a great feeling.”
The Panthers’ opening drive ended unsuccessfully when Michael Schemadeke missed a 30-yard field goal attempt. But the Panthers jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Tyvis Smith’s 3-yard run.
Portland State’s touted scoring offense, ranked 12th in the FCS, struggled in the first half. The Vikings’ lone points came on Jonathan Gonzales’ 32-yard field goal.
Northern Iowa jumped on a Portland State fumble for the turnover, and Bailey capitalized on the ensuing drive with a 61-yard keeper to extend the Panthers’ lead. Schemadeke added a 44-yard field goal at the close of the first half to give Northern Iowa a 16-3 lead.
Northern Iowa’s D’Shawn Dexter was ejected in the third quarter for targeting on a drive that ended with Alex Kuresa’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Chase Loftin.
After Bailey’s 69-yard TD run came with 14:33 left in the game, David Jones rushed for a 9-yard score and Portland State pulled within 23-17.
“I thought our defense played well, actually, and kept us in the game,” Portland State coach Bruce Barnum said. “Kudos to them. Some plays got away from them there in the second half from some pretty good athletes. They ran by us there like gazelles, but for the most part, besides those big plays, you had to be proud of what you saw from them.”
But any momentum for the Vikings was snuffed with Smith’s 59-yard touchdown run with 8:02 left.
“Crazy things have happened. And that’s kind of been the mentality of our team this year, to weather the storm and keep fighting,” Kuresa said. “Up until they got that last first down, you’re kind of going through scenarios in your head, like this is going to be something cool that’s going to happen here. I don’t think we ever stopped fighting.”
The loss ended the Vikings’ thrilling turnaround season under first-year coach Bruce Barnum. The team’s success even inspired the nickname “Barny Ball.”
After finishing 3-9 last year, Portland State opened the season with a 24-17 upset win over Washington State in Pullman, the program’s first win over a Pac-12 team. The Vikings earned a $525,000 paycheck afterward.
The Vikings also routed upper-division North Texas 66-7, setting a record for the biggest FCS win over an FBS team. It was the first time Portland State had defeated two FBS teams in the same season.
The Vikings’ nine wins were the most in school history. Portland State finished 6-2 in the Big Sky.
The two teams had never met.
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