CEDAR FALLS — After committing a season-high five turnovers in its regular-season finale against Kennesaw State last week, Monmouth turned it over four times in a first-round 46-7 playoff loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.
Along with their turnover troubles, Monmouth (9-3) looked overmatched against the battle-tested Panthers (8-4), who came into the game with an on-paper advantage of having played an eight-game MVFC schedule.
“That’s one thing we emphasize everyday in practice is just getting the ball for our offense,” senior linebacker Jared Farley said. “Putting them in good spots whether it’s flipping the field with punts or getting the ball with (interceptions) or fumbles or anything. Offenses are only going to get better throughout this tournament, so we’ve got to keep it up.”
UNI scored a season-high 33 points in the first half, all on Eli Dunne passing touchdowns — one of them a 1-yard pass to Jared Farley, who lined up at fullback on the play. Dunne’s favorite target in the game was Daurice Fountain, who he connected with eight times in the first half. The senior receiver piled up 10 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.
“We knew that they played a lot of man (coverage),” Dunne said. “We just knew Daurice could do a good job against their corners and we really wanted to emphasize getting him the ball this game. He did a good job getting open and making some plays today. We just got in a rhythm and we were able to maintain that the whole game.”
The proverbial nail in Monmouth’s coffin came late in the first half when quarterback Kenji Bahar threw the third of his four interceptions. Xavior Williams picked off Bahar’s pass with 53 seconds remaining in the half and UNI’s offense was able to go 61 yards in four plays and take a 33-point advantage into the break.
UNI opened the second half with two scoring drives that ended in field goals. The second field goal at 4:05 in the third quarter was converted by backup kicker Austin Errthum. From then on, it was largely second-team players who brought home Northern Iowa’s first home playoff victory since 2015. The Panthers totaled 520 yards of offense in their convincing win — 274 passing and 246 rushing.
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“When you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got to be able to rush the football for over 100 yards,” head coach Mark Farley said. “We always say, ‘Get 150 yards of rushing.’ We did that today. When you do that, you can really start to make some decisions in the throwing game to get people off balance. Eli is very accurate; we’ve just got to get him in a good spot.”
Monmouth — which only gained 202 total yards of offense, 61 on the ground — avoided the shutout when Bahar completed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Lonnie Moore with eight minutes left in the game.
Northern Iowa will travel to Brookings, S.D., next Saturday to take on No. 5 seed South Dakota State (2 p.m., ESPN3). The Panthers defeated the Jackrabbits, 38-18, in Week 7.
“We went out there having to win, if I remember right. We had to win that game,” Mark Farley said. “It will be different. This one, somebody’s done when the day is over. I think that mindset’s different. I think we’ve matured since that football game. All that matters is what happens next week. You can go from good to bad or bad to good in a week. Right now, we’ve made good progress week-to-week. We want to make that same progress this week.”