N. Iowa 21, E. Illinois 14
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) _ Tyree Talton returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, caught a pass to set up another score and recovered a fumble to start the winning drive as Northern Iowa beat Eastern Illinois 21-14 Saturday night in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
Jeff Stovall scored on a 1-yard dive with 7:02 left to break a 14-14 tie and send third-seeded Northern Iowa (11-1) into the quarterfinals against No. 8 seed William & Mary.
The Panthers weren’t sure of the victory until Eastern Illinois threw an incomplete pass from the Northern Iowa 2-yard line on the final play of the game.
Northern Iowa used Talton’s touchdown and the big-play passing of Steve Beard to counter Eastern Illinois’ ball-control running game. Eastern Illinois (8-4), the No. 14 seed, mounted first-half scoring drives that lasted 8:30 and 9:40 but turned the ball over on its first four possessions in the second half.
Northern Iowa capitalized only once, but it was enough.
Talton’s recovery of Chris Szarka’s fumble at the Northern Iowa 17 ended a promising drive and the UNI offense responded with an 83-yard, 12-play march to take the lead.
Beard hit Alonzo Clayton for 38 yards and his 16-yard completion to Dedric Ward on third-and-15 gave Northern Iowa a first down at the 4. Stovall scored two plays later.
Beard finished 17-of-33 for 300 yards, but his fumble with 3:19 remaining gave Eastern Illinois once last chance. Brandon Schild recovered at his own 24 and Eastern Illinois drove to a third down at the Northern Iowa 2 with 8 seconds left.
Mike Simpson dropped back to pass and was about to be sacked when he pitched ball to Szarka, whose pass into the end zone fell just short of Bob Rosenstiel’s diving attempt for a catch.
Northern Iowa was able to forge a 14-14 tie at halftime despite Eastern Illinois’ huge edge in possession time _ 20:28 to 9:32.
Eastern Illinois took a 7-0 lead on its first possession, running 8:30 off the clock while driving 76 yards in 17 plays. Fourteen were running plays, none longer than 6 yards. Conrad Praamsma finished it off with a 2-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Northern Iowa tied the score immediately on Talton’s return. He started up the middle, cut to his left at his own 35 and sped down the sideline _ his third kickoff return for a score this season.
After Northern Iowa’s Matt Waller missed a 25-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter, Eastern went up 14-7 with an 80-yard, 16-play drive that used 9:40.
Simpson hit Rosenstiel with a 23-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-one _ five plays after Anton Manuel let a sure TD pass slip through his fingers after he had slipped 10 yards behind the defense.
Northern Iowa then zipped 81 yards in eight plays to tie it with 32 seconds left in the half.
After a holding penalty nullified Beard’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Clayton, Beard hit Talton, normally a defensive back, for 32 yards to the Eastern Illinois 3. On the next play, Beard lofted a pass over defensive back Steffan Nicholson to a leaping Clayton in the far left corner of the end zone.