AMES, Iowa (AP) - Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley found little to regret, even if the result wasn't what he wanted.
The FCS Panthers stunned Iowa State with an 80-yard touchdown pass to take a late lead, but couldn't hold it and lost 20-19 in their season opener Saturday night.
``They had the fight we instill in them and they really played hard,' Farley said of his team. ``Iowa State is a good football team and it shows. We thought we were good and would battle it out at the line of scrimmage. We did that in a tough environment.'
The largest crowd for an Iowa State home opener - 54,672 - saw the Panthers take a 19-14 lead on Tirrell Rennie's 80-yard touchdown pass to David Johnson with 4:17 left. The score came just 13 seconds after Iowa State had gone up 14-13 on Steele Jantz's 26-yard TD pass to Josh Lenz on a fourth-and-10 play.
``I'm very proud of them because after they scored, we came right back on them,' Farley said. ``That's the sign of a great football team. It's what we came down here to do and we could have won that game.'
But the Panthers couldn't come up with one last defensive stand. Iowa State drove 60 yards in nine plays to get the game-winning score on Jantz's sneak from inside the 1-yard line with 40 seconds left. The Panthers' last hopes ended when Iowa State's Willie Scott grabbed an errant lateral with 21 seconds remaining.
``It's real difficult,' Rennie said. ``But the best thing about this game was that it showed our improvement. The biggest test going into the season was improving our passing and I think throughout the season we'll show that we improved our passing.'
Rennie gave Iowa State fits with his quick feet, running 18 times for 127 yards. He also completed 15 of 32 passes for 181 yards with no interceptions.
Last year, Iowa State returned two interceptions for touchdowns in a 27-0 victory over Northern Iowa, which went on to win the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship while Rennie became the first UNI player to pass for more than 1,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in the same season.
Saturday night, he was at his best while leading a 22-play, 90-yard drive that Johnson capped with a 1-yard run for a 13-7 lead late in the third quarter. The Panthers went 6-for-6 on third-down conversions on that march, Rennie running for three first downs and completing passes for two more.
``If we linger on this loss, all we're going to do is fail,' Rennie said. ``We have to remember that we have another nonconference game next week and then our season really starts when we play Western Illinois (in a conference game).'
The game had more than its share of season-opening miscues and got a little chippy at times.
Both teams were flagged for multiple personal fouls and Iowa State's C.J. Morgan was ejected. Northern Iowa was flagged for 10 penalties in the first half, twice drawing three penalties on the same play, and had 16 for the game. Iowa State had eight penalties and four turnovers.
Iowa State's first five possessions with Jantz under center ended with two three-and-outs, two interceptions and a fumble. The fumble, by running back Shontrelle Johnson, was the most disheartening of the turnovers, coming on the 12th play of a drive that carried the Cyclones to the Northern Iowa 24.
But the defense forced a quick three-and-out on the Panthers, Jantz took ISU down the field and he appeared to throw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Reid Branderhorst, who thought he had made a diving one-handed grab in the back of the end zone.
The catch was disallowed after a review, but the Cyclones got the touchdown anyway - with the help of four penalties on Northern Iowa, three on the same play when the Cyclones faced third-and-goal from the 15. Another UNI penalty, this one for pass interference, gave Iowa State the ball inside the 1-yard line and Jantz, with a push from running back Jeff Woody, bulled into the end zone on the final play of the half.
On the play from the 15, Northern Iowa was called for pass interference, roughing the passer and unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Panthers also were penalized three times on the same play earlier in the first half. They were flagged for jumping offsides and two personal fouls, resulting in a 35-yard walk-off that moved Iowa State to the UNI 25. After the Cyclones drove to the 9, Jantz's pass glanced of Darius Reynolds' hands and Tre'Darrius Canady picked it off for the Panthers.
Rennie hit Terrell Sinkfield with a 30-yard pass on the game's first play and the Panthers drove to the Iowa State 25 before settling for Tyler Sievertsen's 42-yard field goal. Rennie completed three passes and scrambled 9 yards for a first down during an 80-yard drive that Sievertsen finished with a 24-yard field goal, making it 6-0.
The Associated Press News Service
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