Brookings, S.D. - The No. 2-ranked University of Northern Iowa football team capitalized on five takeaways and used a career-high four passing touchdowns from senior quarterback Tirrell Rennie to defeat South Dakota State 31-14 on Saturday evening at Coughlin Alumni Stadium.
After trailing 14-7 in the second quarter, UNI rattled off 24 unanswered points to record its first 4-0 start in conference play since 2007.
Rennie was 16-of-20 passing in the game for 239 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. Buck Buchanan award candidate L.J. Fort led the Panther defense with a career-high 17 tackles. J.J. Swain recorded two interceptions and Varmah Sonie and Tre'Darrius Canady added one apiece.
UNI (5-1, 4-0) was out-gained 431-394 in total yards, but four interceptions and one fumble recovery swung the game in the Panthers' favor.
SDSU struck first, capitalizing on a David Johnson fumble and taking the ball on a seven-play, 47-yard drive capped by a four-yard touchdown pass from Austin Sumner to Aaron Rollin. With 4:37 left in the first quarter, SDSU led 7-0.
After an offensive three-and-out, senior Tre'Darrius Canady intercepted a pass on the first play of SDSU's ensuing possession to set up UNI's first scoring drive. Anderson scampered 57 yards - the longest run of his career - for the key play of the drive. On third down, Rennie hit junior Terrell Sinkfield in the corner of the endzone for an 8-yard scoring strike to knot the game at 7-7 with 0:37 left in the first quarter.
SDSU answered with a 15-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 6:34 and ended with a three-yard touchdown pass from Sumner to Dale Moss. With 9:03 remaining in the first half, UNI trailed 14-7.
UNI's linebacker corps came up big midway through the second quarter when James Conley forced a fumble that Jordan Smith recovered at the SDSU 19. On the first play after the takeaway, Rennie hit Darion Howard for a 19-yard touchdown strike, tying the contest at 14-14 with 6:06 left in the 2nd quarter.
Rennie found Jarred Herring wide open down the middle of the field for an 80-yard touchdown reception to give UNI a 21-14 lead with 4:17 left before halftime. It was Rennie's third touchdown pass of 80 or more yards in his career.
UNI held onto that 21-14 lead at halftime after junior cornerback Varmah Sonie intercepted a pass in the endzone with 15 seconds left in the second quarter, putting an end to an SDSU scoring threat.
After a third quarter featuring five combined punts and a failed fourth-down conversion by the Jackrabbits, UNI stretched the margin early in the fourth quarter. With 13:41 left in the game, Rennie connected with Sinkfield for another touchdown, this time coming from 22 yards out, to give the Panthers a 28-14 lead.
Tyler Sievertsen made a 35-yard field goal with 6:04 left in the contest to set the final margin at 31-14.
UNI will return home for an Oct. 22 matchup with Southern Illinois in the UNI-Dome. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.