One big quarter was all Northern Iowa needed Saturday night.
The No. 9-ranked Panthers scored three first-quarter touchdowns en route to a 34-20 victory over Cal Poly in a nonconference football game at Alex G. Spanos Stadium.
A capacity crowd of 11,075 — the seventh sellout in stadium history — showed up for the Mustangs’ home opener and a matchup of two top-25 teams. It was all Panthers, however, as junior quarterback Aaron Bailey carved up the Cal Poly defense time and again.
“I compliment them, they did a great job,” Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said. “But I think we made them look like they were probably a little bit better than they are.”
Bailey, a transfer from Illinois, had his best performance in a Northern Iowa uniform during his third start of the season.
Bailey completed 15 of 25 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 57 yards and two scores to lead the Panthers.
How it happened: Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said earlier this week Northern Iowa was a “very athletic team” and that may have been an understatement.
The Panthers (2-1) scored 21 straight points in the first quarter and never looked back on the way to their seventh consecutive win against Cal Poly.
Northern Iowa had three separate seven-play scoring drives in the opening quarter, covering 75, 87 and 52 yards.
“If you don’t line up right on defense, you don’t have much chance against anybody,” Walsh said. “And I think the pace of play, give them credit … was probably a little bit faster than we anticipated."
The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Bailey was the catalyst that made the Panthers offense so effective, showing why he’s the team’s leading rusher through the first three games of the season.
He connected with sophomore receiver Daurice Fountain eight times for 123 yards.
Brown leads the way: It didn’t take long for Chris Brown to find an early answer. The senior quarterback broke up the middle for a 42-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
It was Brown’s third rushing touchdown of the season and 28th of his career.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Brown surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark for the ninth time in his career, finishing the game with 184 yards and two touchdowns. He also complete 12 of 21 passes for 77 yards, was intercepted twice and fumbled once.
Both interceptions came after Northern Iowa defenders tipped passes, and the fumble was forced on a tipped pitch in the backfield.
“I told the guys in the locker room, ‘nobody likes to lose and nobody likes to lose twice in a row,’” Brown said. “It’s a matter of understanding what game we play. It’s football. Anything can happen.”
What it means: Cal Poly (1-2) has lost seven straight games against Northern Iowa, with its lone win in the eight-game series coming during the first meeting in 1997. The last time the Panthers visited San Luis Obispo, they won a triple-overtime contest in 2002.
Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley is 3-0 in his career against Cal Poly.
Up next: Cal Poly opens Big Sky Conference play next Saturday when the Mustangs play No. 11-ranked Montana State in Bozeman, Mont.
The Bobcats (1-1) lost a 55-50 shootout against Eastern Washington on Saturday.