CEDAR FALLS — Northern Iowa (4-3, 3-1) was able to sustain its newfound running game against the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s third-best defense Saturday at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, defeating No. 9 Youngstown State (3-4, 1-3) 19-14.
The Panthers used four different ball-carriers and totaled 181 rushing yards to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. None other than Marcus Weymiller led the way again for UNI, totaling 133 yards on 29 carries with two touchdown runs.
“Marcus is just willing his way through it,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “You can see he’s not at 100 percent and we’re asking him to do a lot. But he’s the one that wants the carries and you need an individual like that on your football team. He brings the best out of your team.”
For as much production that came from the offense, it was UNI’s defense that led the way to a second consecutive win over a top-10 opponent. The Panthers entered the game with seven sacks this season and more than doubled their total with 10 sacks on the afternoon.
Mixed defensive fronts and exotic blitzes kept Penguin quarterbacks Hunter Wells and Ricky Davis from ever falling into rhythm. Rickey Neal led the way in the sack department with 3.5. Keelon Brookins and Hezekiah Applegate each added two. The UNI defense also held the FCS’ ninth-best running game to 47 yards on 36 attempts.
“I thought we executed very well. I was so pleased with our defensive structure,” Farley said. “There’s a lot going on out there on every play to be able to do that kind of stuff. There’s some adjustments going on within seconds and they’re doing them and they look smooth doing it. Then they’re fast in execution. We can keep people off balance if we can keep going from a four-man front, to a three-man front, to a (3-3-5) front, to a 3-4 front, to whatever we want.”
Coming into the matchup it was anticipated that a physical, run-first game would unfold. While that happened, it was UNI’s passing game that separated the two opponents. Multiple times Dunne found Daurice Fountain for big gains on third down. Two of Fountain’s long third-down receptions were on drives that led to scores.
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Looking for a spark on offense Youngstown State went to backup quarterback Davis to begin the second half. After taking a 16-7 lead into the break, UNI’s defense forced a turnover on downs at their own 34 and there was no looking back after that swing in momentum. UNI made the Penguins pay for their turnover, going 55 yards in seven plays to extend its lead to 19-7 on a 28-yard Sam Drysdale field goal with 7:24 remaining in the third quarter.
It turned out to be another complete performance by UNI after struggling to get all three phases in sync through the first five games. The only negatives to point to would be seven penalties for 70 yards and the ejection of Jared Farley for targeting Nathan Mays on a scramble in the second quarter.
“I couldn’t believe (the targeting call),” Mark Farley said. “It was tough at the time too. They finished the drive and scored so I was probably more concerned about what was going to happen to our defense at that time. What was great about the defense is they let that drive get away, but man, they rallied back and got back in sync.”
A 15-yard pass from Mays to Bailey with 1:23 remaining brought the Penguins within 5 at 19-14, but UNI recovered the YSU onside kick and was able to run out the remaining 1:21 for the win.
“There’s no question we’ve made progress the last two weeks,” Farley said. “We need to continue to improve now because the stakes get higher, the teams get better. We’re going into the best place to go right now (next week). But there’s no question we need to enjoy this one. I just feel a better sense of communication and everybody working the same way.”