AMES, Iowa — David Johnson exemplified Northern Iowa’s determination.
And the Panthers scored another major triumph for the Football Championship Subdivision.
Johnson tied a school record with four touchdowns, rushing for 199 yards on 23 carries as Northern Iowa of the FCS stunned Iowa State 28-20 in the season opener for both schools before 56,800 Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
“All that matters right now is that we came out here and represented the university in the way we wanted to represent it in how hard we played,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “To come away with a victory on top of that just shows that we’re off to the right start and playing the game for the right reasons.”
UNI, 17th in the FCS preseason rankings but just 5-6 last year, beat Iowa State of the FBS for the fifth time in 25 tries. The others came in 2007, 1994, 1992 and 1900.
“They thoroughly knew our offense and defense and took advantage with great execution of all those holes and weaknesses,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 214-pound junior from Clinton, appeared to put the finishing touches on the win with 2:32 remaining, carrying 22 yards around right end on a fourth-and-1 play to the Cyclone 5. Two plays later, Johnson was poised to become the first Panther to score five times, but he fumbled without appearing to be touched on the Cyclone 1.
“David is awesome,” Farley said. “He should have had 200 yards and five touchdowns, if he would’ve fell in the end zone. David is exceptional.”
Iowa State took over at its 1 with 1:44 left. On fourth-and-7 at its 19 with 33 seconds remaining, Sam Richardson hit Tad Ecby on a short pass. But Jake Farley, the coach’s son, made a sure tackle well before the first-down marker, clinching the unlikely win.
Coming off a 6-7 season that ended in the Liberty Bowl, Iowa State lost its opener for the first time in Rhoads’ five seasons. The Cyclones had won nine of their previous 10 openers.
Trailing 21-14 at the half, Iowa State penetrated the Northern Iowa red zone on its first two third-quarter possessions. But Iowa State settled for field goals both times as the Panthers took a 21-20 lead to the fourth quarter.
Johnson’s 29-yard touchdown catch from Sawyer Kollmorgen pushed Northern Iowa up 28-20 with 13 minutes remaining.
Finishing with 410 yards of offense, Iowa State couldn’t orchestrate the potential tying drive in front of a crowd which matched its largest in school history. The kickoff temperature was 92 degrees, the warmest in stadium history, and the Cyclones struggled defensively, allowing 457 total yards.
How much did Iowa State’s defense lag in the first half? Northern Iowa ran 28 plays, but only faced third down three times. Kollmorgen completed 14 of 17 for 128 yards and a score and rarely faced pressure. Northern Iowa averaged 12 yards per carry.
The Panthers took a 21-7 lead with 6:52 left in the second quarter when Johnson went in untouched from 27 yards out over left tackle. Johnson opened the scoring with a 37-yard scoring jaunt.
“He’s a Big 12-talented back, there’s no question about that,” Rhoads said.
The Cyclones answered on third-and-goal when Richardson hit James White, who beat his defender to the inside, from 7 yards out. That brought the Cyclones within 21-14, and they went to the half that way.
Richardson completed 22 of 32 for 242 yards and two scores, and carried 21 times for 74 yards.
Iowa State also lost junior center Tom Farniok to an apparent knee injury early in the second quarter. Farniok had started his team-leading 27th straight game.
Sophomore Jamison Lalk, a Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln graduate who had made his first career start at guard in the contest, moved over to take Farniok’s spot.
Iowa State’s first touchdown came from former walk-on Justin Coleman, a former Beatrice High School standout who transferred from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after its program was disbanded.
After playing primarily special teams last season, Coleman’s first catch for the Cyclones went for a 59-yard touchdown. Coleman lined up in the right slot, ran a crossing route and found himself wide open. His score evened the game at 7-7 with 3:37 left in the first quarter.
“Definitely didn’t plan it out that way, but I’ll take it,” Coleman said.
Coleman finished with four catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. He became the first Cyclone to record 100 receiving yards in a season opener since Ed Williams in 1997.
Iowa State has a bye this week, which Coleman said isn’t necessarily a good thing after a loss.
“We’ll be itching to get back on the field,” he said. “That’s going to be the most painful part.”
Former Iowa Western All-American Aaron Wimberly carried eight times for 35 yards and returned a kickoff 31 yards in his Cyclone debut.