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Dome disappointment

Penguins again lose close one at Northern Iowa

Correspondent photo / Dave Dermer Youngstown State's Ryan Emas drops a pass during the second half of their game, Saturday afternoon at the UNI Dome. Northern Iowa won 21-14.

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — The curse of Cedar Falls is still haunting the Youngstown State football team.

With Halloween coming, the 17th-ranked Penguins better hope things don’t get any scarier.

YSU lost its first game of the season — their 10th straight at the UNI-Dome — as No. 13 Northern Iowa held on for a 21-14 victory Saturday in the Missouri Valley Football Conference opener for both teams.

YSU (4-1, 0-1) had its chances late in the game after enduring through a miserable first half, but a dropped would-be touchdown pass and a turnover inside UNI territory — both in the fourth quarter — led to another loss at the hands of the Panthers (3-2, 1-0).

“We needed to play better, we needed to execute better,” said YSU coach Bo Pelini of what he said to the team at halftime. “And we did some things better in the second half, but we didn’t finish drives. We didn’t play well enough to win. On the road, you have to play cleaner and better than we did, and we didn’t play well enough.”

Correspondent photo / Dave Dermer Youngstown State head coach Bo Pelini reacts on the sideline during the second half of their game, Saturday afternoon at the UNI Dome. Northern Iowa won 21-14.

Making matters worse was starting quarterback Nathan Mays suffered an injury in the fourth quarter.

The senior signal-caller was the only spark for the offense for much of the game. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 239 yards and two TDs. He also ran for 53 yards on 18 attempts, but he was sacked six times for negative 40 yards to bring his net total to 13 yards.

“Nate played well,” Pelini said. “He fought his butt off.”

He was injured on YSU’s final drive.

YSU had the ball near midfield, and Mays launched a pass down the middle of the field that hit Ryan Emans in the chest, but Emans — who was having a career day — dropped the ball. Two plays later on third-and-6, Mays was sandwiched on a sack and his leg got twisted. He was helped off the field and shown on crutches a few minutes later.

Correspondent photo / Dave Dermer Youngstown State's Kendrick Mallory reaches across the goal line to score a touchdown during the second half of their game, Saturday afternoon at the UNI Dome. Northern Iowa won 21-14.

YSU was forced to punt after the sack, and UNI drove down the field and ran out the final minutes. Pelini didn’t have an update on Mays’ health after the game.

“We’ll have to see,” he said. “It’s day-to-day. We’ll know a little bit more (today).”

The Panthers dominated the first half.

They opened the scoring with a 39-yard pass from Will McElvain to Isaiah Weston late in the first quarter. They went up 14-0 on a 10-yard run by Trevor Allen in the second quarter, but YSU quickly responded, with Mays firing a 75-yard TD pass to Jermiah Braswell to cut the lead in half.

The defense couldn’t contain UNI with just 4:56 left in the half. McElvain completed a 47-yard pass on third-and-16 (the Panthers converted 4 of 7 third downs in the first half), and that set up Tyler Hoosman’s 15-yard TD run.

YSU, which ran for just 55 total yards, scored on its opening possession of the second half, with Kendric Mallory pulling in a 14-yard TD pass from Mays, but the Penguins couldn’t get the tying score. Colt McFadden missed a 44-yard field goal wide right in the third quarter, and with YSU at the Panthers’ 14 midway through the fourth, Mays was sacked on a third-down play and fumbled as he was hit hard. UNI recovered, and the Panthers held on for the win.

It was yet another tough loss to Northern Iowa, which holds a 23-9 advantage in the all-time series between the teams.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Pelini said of the performance. “We didn’t win the football game.”

The Penguins host No. 3 South Dakota State at 6 p.m. Saturday.