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FCS Football: Northern Iowa, Idaho Staged a Classic in First No. 1 vs. No. 2 Matchup

FCS Football: Northern Iowa, Idaho Staged a Classic in First No. 1 vs. No. 2 Matchup

FCS Football: Northern Iowa, Idaho Staged a Classic in First No. 1 vs. No. 2 Matchup

Northern Iowa's sports information department recap of its victory over Idaho in 1992 is spot-on in saying the game lived up to its billing.

UNI sat atop the NCAA's national poll on Oct. 24 when it edged the Vandals, 27-26, in the first regular-season meeting between the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked FCS (then called Division I-AA) teams. The 28th anniversary of the game is Saturday.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 has not occurred often in the FCS, although most recently the 2019 season was capped by top-ranked North Dakota State defeating second-ranked James Madison in the national championship game.

UNI and Idaho both entered their 1992 meeting with a 6-0 record, including a win over a Division I-A opponent — UNI beat Iowa State and Idaho topped Colorado State — and the matchup completed a two-year, home-and-home contract. A year earlier, Idaho was No. 2 in the national media poll when UNI was ranked 10th and traveled west for a 36-14 win.

The 1992 game drew 16,324 that night, marking just the second time the UNI-Dome was sold out. Panthers quarterback Jay Johnson passed for 289 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score to highlight the win.

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UNI, under head coach Terry Allen, went ahead 14-0 in the first quarter and led 21-16 at halftime, but fell behind 23-21 on Sherriden May's one-yard touchdown run early in the third. Johnson connected with Kenny Shedd for an 84-yard scoring pass later in the quarter, giving the Panthers the lead again, 27-23, although their subsequent two-point attempt failed.

In the fourth quarter, Idaho's Mike Hollis kicked his fourth field goal of the game, a 52-yarder with 11:11 remaining, to pull head coach John L. Smith's squad within 27-26.

The closing minutes were wild. Idaho linebacker Jeff Hill intercepted Johnson at the 3:11 mark, and the Vandals drove from their 31 to the UNI 39, but Myron Glass picked off Doug Nussmeier at the UNI 25 with 1:11 left. The Panthers ran the ball three times and punted back to Idaho, which advanced the ball from its 32 to the UNI 45 before trying to win the game on another Hollis kick. His 62-yard field goal attempt as time expired was short and wide left.

UNI went on to capture the Gateway Conference (now Missouri Valley) title and Idaho was a Big Sky co-champ, and both teams qualified for the 16-team national playoffs, with Idaho (9-3) bowing out in the first round and UNI (12-2) reaching the semifinals. The 1991 and '92 matchups are the Panthers' only wins in their all-time series, which Idaho leads 4-2.

— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

(Photo courtesy of UNI Athletics)