SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Good teams find ways to win, and so do injury depleted teams, too.
Northern Iowa rode a strong defensive performance and four Sam Drysdale field goals as the 25th-ranked Panthers won for the fourth-time in five games with a 25-10 victory over Missouri State Saturday at Plaster Field.
UNI (6-4 overall. 5-2 in Missouri Valley Football Conference) started the game without four key starters, lost starting quarterback Eli Dunne late in the first quarter but did enough things right to keep its playoff hopes alive.
"After that run we were a little worn," Farley said of UNI's stretch of four games against four Top 10 opponents. "But we stepped up today and maybe didn't play the prettiest game, but that is the sign of a good football team when you can win playing that style of football."
Marcus Weymiller rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, and UNI's defense held the Bears (3-7. 2-5) to just 215 total yards, 177 below their season average.
Linebacker Jared Farley led UNI's defensive effort with 13 tackles, while Elijah Campbell returned a second-quarter interception for a touchdown and Xavior Williams sealed the win with an interception in the final two minutes.
"We knew we couldn't take this team lightly at all," Campbell said. "They have a lot of athletes, and are one of those teams that can surprise you if you do take them lightly.
"We didn't play as well as we should have, but we got the W."
Dunne was hurt scrambling with 5:01 left in the first quarter on a play that officials initially flagged for targeting, but a penalty that was overturned after review.
Colton Howell replaced Dunne and connected on 12 of 20 passes for 129 yards.
"When you are second string it is kind of tough," Howell said. "You don't expect to go in, but mentally you have to prepare like you are going to start. And you never want to see Eli get hurt, we're roommates on the road, and I try to be his biggest supporter on the sidelines.
"You just got to be ready."
Farley felt Howell was especially good in the first half when he connected on eight of his 10 pass attempts, and then again late when he led UNI on a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ate up 6 minutes and 10 seconds of the fourth quarter and resulted in Drysdale's four field goal.
"I thought he played tremendous. He played smart, and he had no turnovers. That was big," Farley said.
Drysdale had field goals of 20, 47, 37 and 22, and he kicked three in the first half as UNI led 22-7 at halftime.
The Panthers scored on the opening possession of the game, going 75 yards in nine plays, 70 of them on the ground and getting a Weymiller 2-yard touchdown run. It was the first of three five-minute plus scoring drives for UNI in the first half.
Leading 9-0 late in the second quarter, UNI scored twice in a 11-second span, the first Drysdale's 47-yard field goal. Then on MSU's first play after the score, Rickey Neal hit Bear quarterback Peyton Hulsing as he was throwing and Campbell picked it off and returned it 35 yards for a 19-0 lead with 4:15 left to halftime.
It was the second consecutive year Campbell had returned an interception for a touchdown against MSU.
"It was a little gift," Campbell said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like I did a lot for it. It fell in my hands, and you have to capitalize on the opportunity."
The victory now puts UNI in position to earn an at large playoff berth with just winless Indiana State (0-9, 0-6) next Saturday at home.
"This game was to find a way to win," Farley said. "We didn't talk that way during the week, but we had to find a way to win."