Iowa State turns back Northern Iowa 31-7 before record crowd
AMES, Iowa (AP) A sign on a meeting room door at the Iowa State football complex laid out a simple goal.
''1-0,'' it read. ''MAKE IT HAPPEN.''
The Cyclones did just that.
Sam Richardson threw two touchdown passes and Iowa State got rolling in the second half to open the season with a 31-7 victory over Northern Iowa on Saturday night.
Iowa State bottled up its FCS opponent for most of the steamy night and provided a key victory for coach Paul Rhoads, who is under scrutiny after winning only five games over the last two seasons.
The Cyclones also ended a two-game losing streak to FCS teams and won its opener for the first time since 2012, delighting a record crowd of 61,500 in newly expanded Jack Trice Stadium.
''For the last nine months, that's what we focused on, getting that first win,'' wide receiver Allen Lazard said. ''We stuck with each other and our defense played a hell of a game. Without a doubt we wouldn't have won that game without the defense.''
Illinois transfer Aaron Bailey totaled 199 yards and threw a touchdown pass in his first game at quarterback for the Panthers. But he was sacked five times and UNI was hurt throughout by poor field position.
Richardson settled down after a shaky start and threw third-quarter TD passes of 36 yards to Dondre Daley and 13 yards to Lazard, the latter a bullet across the field to the 6-foot-5 sophomore in the right corner of the end zone for a 24-7 lead.
Slowed by injuries at times in his career, Richardson finished 21 of 29 for 233 yards and was not intercepted.
''I thought he showed the poise of a fifth-year senior quarterback,'' Rhoads said. ''He'll continue to show that and be a positive leader for this football team.''
Lazard had four catches for 43 yards and showed a new dimension by averaging 25 yards on four punt returns, including a 34-yarder. Trever Ryen took over those duties late and topped off the victory by returning a punt 81 yards for a touchdown.
''A huge stat in that game was the (punt return) yardage and field position that came with it,'' Rhoads said.
Quenton Bundrage, playing for the first time since tearing an ACL on the fourth play of last year's opener, caught five balls for 53 yards but lost two fumbles.
Iowa State muddled its way to 10-7 halftime lead that easily could have been much larger.
Cole Netten missed field goal attempts of 38 and 41 yards, Richardson twice overthrew Lazard in the end zone, the Cyclones lost a fumble and were set back by a couple of big penalties.
They finally got on the board when Dale Pierson's interception of a Bailey screen pass gave them a short field and freshman Joshua Thomas bulled in from a yard out for a 7-all tie with 7:44 left in the half. That proved to be the momentum turner the Cyclones needed.
''I came off the ball and the offensive tackle tried to cut me,'' Pierson said. ''I had my hands down on him and once I looked up, I saw the quarterback kept backing up, so I knew it was a screen.''
Lazard's 26-yard punt return after Pierson sacked Bailey gave ISU another short field and this time, Netten delivered, drilling a 24-yarder to break the tie.
Bailey hurt Iowa State with his scrambling early, then found some rhythm with his passing. He connected three times during an 87-yard drive early in the second quarter before dumping a short pass to Savon Huggins, who sprinted the rest of the way for a 19-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead.
''I think we found out a lot about our football team today,'' UNI coach Mark Farley said. ''If we use that, we'll be a better team in the weeks to come, but we really have to do some soul-searching.''