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BROOKINGS, S.D. – Matthew Cook never saw it go through. He never does.

Cook drilled four field goals, including two from beyond 50 yards, as 20th ranked Northern Iowa shocked sixth-ranked South Dakota State Saturday in Missouri Valley Football Conference play, 26-17.

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Northern Iowa linebacker Alfonzo Lambert screams in joy after the Panthers defeated No. 6 South Dakota State Saturday in Brookings, S.D. 

Coming off back-to-back losses to North Dakota State and South Dakota, the Panthers playoff hopes were beginning to look bleak.

But Saturday’s impressive performance with a huge game at home next week at the UNI-Dome against another Top Ten opponent, No. 4 Southern Illinois, gave those playoffs a jolt of life.

Cook kicked field goals of 55, 27, 46 and 51 in the game, the latter two in the second half.

The two 50-yard makes were the first of his career from that distance, with the 55-yard make the longest by a UNI field goal kicker since MacKenzie Hoambrecker connected from 59 yards in 2002 against Southwest Missouri State.

The kick hit an upright, then the crossbar and went through for a 10-7 UNI lead with five seconds left to in the first quarter.

“Honestly, I can’t see over the linemen so sometimes I can’t see them go through,” Cook smiled. “Most of time I don’t see it go through.”

Cook and UNI head coach Mark Farley had a conversation about the wind conditions Saturday, and Cook told Farley when UNI was headed in the direction of SDSU’s practice facility, the wind would give him a few extra yards.

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Northern Iowa offensive line Jared Penning celebrates a Panther first-half touchdown Saturday against South Dakota State

Prior to the 55-yard attempt, Farley was going to punt the ball, but then the Jacks called time out. During the time out, Farley changed his mind and sent out Cook.

“He asked if I could make it and I said I could make it and he trusted me,” Cook said.

Cook, a sophomore, had attempted only two field goals from 50 plus in his career, making his first a 50-yard attempt on his first career kick as a freshman in 2019 against Iowa State. He missed from 52 in the spring against SDSU.

It was complete team victory for UNI as the Panthers never trailed and the defense delivered its best performance of the season despite being short-handed.

UNI lost leading tackler Spencer Cuvelier to injury during practice this week, then in the first quarter Benny Sapp III was ejected for targeting.

But the Panther defense never blinked.

“It was a great team effort,” Farley said. “I couldn’t be more proud of a football team from top to bottom. We had a great week, and it was great men who went out there and put their hearts into that win.”

SDSU had scored 40 or more points in all six of its games, but Saturday the Jacks (5-2 overall, 2-2 MVFC) had a much tougher time.

SDSU quarterback Chris Oladokun was held to just 24 of 53 passing as the defensive backfield played lock down defense. Oladokun came into the game completing 66 percent of his passes.

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Northern Iowa running back Dom Williams looks for open space Saturday during first-half action against South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D. 

The Panthers also held the Jacks’ all-American running back Pierre Strong to 53 yards.

“Play fundamentally sound and play with heart,” UNI linebacker Bryce Flater said. “That was the biggest thing. We played with heart all day…we gave our all.”

Alfonzo Lambert had 10 tackles, and Flater in place of Cuvelier, had seven tackles, a sack, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.

UNI got off to a great start.

Korby Sander sacked Oladokun early in the first quarter, forcing fumble that Flater recovered. UNI turned the turnover into points as Bradrick Shaw scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead with 9:10 left in the first quarter.

“You can’t ask for much more from a defense on their first drive, and then getting that advantage early and keep on stepping on the gas,” Flater said.

SDSU answered quickly on a Jaden Janke 12-yard touchdown catch just 3:20 later, but Cook answered with his 55-yard attempt, a career long.

After the Jacks tied it, Isaiah Weston hauled in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Theo Day to put UNI up 17-10 with 10:48 left in the second quarter and the Panthers never trailed again.

Cook hit a 27-yard field goal with 4:03 left to half, and then booted a 46-yard field goal with 7:52 on the clock in the third to make it 23-10.

SDSU got a Strong 9-yard touchdown run 43 seconds left in the fourth, but UNI responded with his 51-yard boot and the defense took over.

UNI stopped the Jacks on three fourth-down attempts and SDSU missed a 47-yard field goal with 2:45 left.

Day passed for 232 yards, with Weston hauling in four passes for 125 yards and the score.

“We went for the win from the start to the finish,” Farley said. “Great focus, great effort by all of them.”

UNI 26, SDSU 17

Northern Iowa 10 10 3 3 — 26

South Dakota St. 7 3 0 7 – 17

First quarter

UNI – Shaw 1 run (Cook kick), 9:10. (Scoring drive: 6 plays, 14 yards, 3:03).

SDSU – Jaden Janke 12 pass from Oladokun (Frahm kick), 5:50. (Scoring drive: 6 plays, 80, 3:13).

UNI – Cook 55 FG, :05. (Scoring drive: 11 plays, 54, 5:38).

Second quarter

SDSU – Frahm 34 FG, 13:21. (Scoring drive: 5 plays, 58 yards, 1:44).

UNI – Weston 40 pass from Day (Cook kick), 10:48. (Scoring drive: 5 plays, 75 yards, 2:33).

UNI – Cook 27 FG, 4:03. (Scoring drive: 10 plays, 37 yards, 5:01).

Third quarter

UNI – Cook 46 FG, 7:52. (Scoring drive: 6 plays, 39 yards, 2:24).

Fourth quarter

SDSU – Strong 9 run (Frahm kick), 14:17. (Scoring drive: 4 plays, 40 yards, :53).

UNI – Cook 51 FG, 12:04. (Scoring drive: 6 plays, 41 yards, 2:13).

TEAM STATISTICS

UNI SDSU

First downs 16 19

Rushes-yards 49-103 25 60

Passing yards 232 300

Comp-Att-Int 11-21-1 24-54 0

Total Offense 335 360

Punts-avg. 5-43.2 4-45.0

Time of Possession 34:32 25:28

Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1

Penalties-yards 3-38 4-42

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing

NORTHERN IOWA – V. McShane 20-54, Williams 10-37, Shaw 12-34, Team 1-(-1), Day 6-(-21).

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE – Strong 14-53, Oladokun 11-7

Passing

NORTHERN IOWA – Day 11-21-1-232 and one touchdown

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE – Oladokun 24-53-0-300 and one touchdown, Heide 0-1-0-0.

Receiving

NORTHERN IOWA – Weston 4-125, Hampton 4-38, Kershaw 1-38, V. McShane 1-16, Williams 1-15.

SOUTH DAKOTA STATE – Kraft 9-123, Jax. Janke 4-101, Strong 6-37, Heins 3-20, Jad. Janke 1-12, Feldkamp 1-7.

This article originally ran on wcfcourier.com.

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