CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — South Dakota State kicker Justin Syrovatka made a 44-yard field goal with 1:47 left to play and Melvin Taveras intercepted a Brion Carnes pass at his 3-yard line to seal a 31-28 Missouri Valley Football Conference win over Northern Iowa.
Syrovatka was perfect on four PATs and the game-winning field goal as the Jackrabbits notched their first FCS win at UNI.
"It is not like we drew it up," SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said. "We won a football game that should have been a little easier."
SDSU (5-2, 2-1 MVFC) led 28-14 with 8:58 to play after scoring 21 straight points. But UNI (3-4, 1-2) got a 2-yard TD run by David Johnson and minutes later a 58-yard interception return for a score by Ray Mitchell with 3:29 left to tie it 28-28.
The Jacks came right back, going 44 yards on six plays to set up Syrovatka's winner. The big play was a one-handed tip that Jason Schneider hauled in for 40 yards.
"That was a phenomenal play by a guy who is injured. That's one of those top 10s for history," Stiegelmeier said.
Schneider caught nine passes for 117 yards.
SDSU quarterback Zach Lujan was 21-for-38 for 223 yards, including an 8-yard TD pass to Jake Wieneke that gave SDSU a 7-0 lead.
Johnson, who ran for 78 yards for UNI, scored on a 50-yard run and Barkley Hill caught a 2-yard TD pass to give the Panthers a 14-7 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Zach Zenner scored on two 1-yard runs and Dallas Brown took an interception 30 yards for a TD and a comfortable lead.
"In the first half we couldn't get any yardage. We didn't have that problem on the first drive," Stiegelmeier said. "We did a better job in the second half."
SDSU had two 84-yard scoring drives, including the Jacks' last TD drive.
"We thought they were tired. When you're getting yards it's deflating for the defense and invigorating for the offense," Stiegelmeier said.
Zenner finished with 80 yards rushing, giving him 1,018 for the year. He is the second SDSU back to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons.
UNI's Sawyer Kollmorgen and Brion Carnes were 20-for-35 for 178 yards. But they were intercepted three times.
Carnes' interception came with 50 seconds left as he tried to drive the Panthers into scoring position. He threw a deep ball on first down from his own 42 with less than a minute to play.