MADISON, Wis. - With his team trailing 19-0 late in the third quarter and facing fourth-and-4 in Wisconsin territory, Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley called a timeout.
At that point, kicking a field goal would at least put some points on the board and salvage some pride.
The only way to start an unlikely comeback, though, was going for it.
"We called the timeout and I was just looking at the eyes," Farley said. "They believed. They wanted it. If they want it, it's on them to make the play and they made the play."
The Panthers hit a long pass to convert, went on to score - then gave the 12th-ranked Badgers all they could handle the rest of the way in a wild 26-21 loss at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.
Northern Iowa might play in the second tier of major college football. But they showed again on Saturday, the Panthers are anything but an early season cupcake.
"There's a lot of FBS schools that I'd rather play than those guys," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "They're a really, really good football team."
It was another huge effort against superior competition for Mark Farley's team, who nearly won at Iowa in 2009 and lost by a point at Iowa State last season. Northern Iowa beat Iowa State in 2007.
Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen said the Panthers didn't get the win they wanted, but should leave with their heads held high.
"Coach Farley said to come out and prove we belong," Kollmorgen said. "We did that today."
Kollmorgen threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers.
The Panthers' offense finally got past the 50-yard line late in the third quarter - and kept going from there.
Kollmorgen threw a 21-yard pass to Brett LeMaster to convert on fourth down, then threw a 2-yard touchdown to Chad Owens on third-and-goal to cut the Badgers' lead to 19-7.
But Wisconsin quarterback Danny O'Brien answered almost right away, throwing a rainbow to Jared Abbrederis for a 53-yard touchdown and a 26-7 lead with 12:31 remaining.
The Panthers weren't finished, as Kollmorgen threw to David Johnson for a 55-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to cut the lead to 26-14. Then they scored again when Kollmorgen found Johnson wide open down the sideline for a 31-yard touchdown, cutting the lead to 26-21 with 7:24 left.
Northern Iowa forced a punt and Wisconsin needed a big play from defensive lineman Ethan Hemer, who batted down a pass on fourth-and-1 in Badgers territory, to preserve the win.
"Without the batted ball, we might still be playing," Farley said. "A guy got a hand up, so credit him."
Montee Ball rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown for Wisconsin.
O'Brien completed 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Abbrederis.
O'Brien is a transfer who was eligible to play for the Badgers right away because he already had graduated from Maryland, the same rule Russell Wilson took advantage of to play for the Badgers last year.
Coaches and teammates went out of their way this week to establish realistic expectations for O'Brien and shield him against direct comparisons to Wilson - a remarkable playmaker who led the Badgers to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance last season, and now has won a starting job with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks as a rookie.
For Ball, it was a chance to brush off his recent off-the-field trouble. Ball was beaten up in an attack near campus a month ago, sustaining a concussion and missing part of camp.
"I believe we didn't make the statement that we wanted to," Ball said. "But I believe this was a great learning experience for us all, because we believe that the mentality (we had) toward the game, we weren't attacking the defense like we should have. But it's a lot easier to correct your mistakes after a win than a loss."
Badgers coach Bret Bielema figured his team might learn more from a close call than a big blowout to start the season.
"You've got to touch a hot stove once," Bielema said. "Once you get burned, you're not going to do it again. And hopefully our guys learn, hey, you've got to put people away when we can."