116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Three weeks, three must-win football games and Northern Iowa now finds itself on a three-game winning streak with an at-large bid to the FCS playoffs squarely back in the picture.
Saturday’s 37-36 win at No. 24 Southern Illinois was by far the most dramatic win of UNI’s season, despite it being its fourth one-score result.
A replay review confirmed Jay Jones’ knee was down 1 yard shy of the end zone on Nic Baker’s 42-yard Hail Mary, and UNI Coach Mark Farley said Monday it was one of the more dramatic games he’s ever been part of.
“That was wild,” Farley said. “It resembled the two kicks we had at Youngstown (State in 2004) when Brian Wingert got two attempts, missed the first one and got the second one. The New Hampshire game (in 2008) — that play finished probably about the 8-yard line on them trying to score and this one finished on the 2-yard line. To do that on the road, very pleased with our football team (and) how they held their composure.”
With two games left in the regular season, the Panthers welcome top-ranked South Dakota State (8-1, 5-0) to the UNI-Dome this weekend. Looking at its playoff resume, UNI may be able to split its last two games and still earn an at-large bid, but a loss to the Jackrabbits would be much less detrimental to its chances than a loss at South Dakota (2-6, 1-4) next week.
“I’d say absolutely, yes,” Farley said of his team’s at-large bid chances with a 6-5 record. “If (Sacramento State) continues to win like they are, they're going to be the Big Sky (Conference) champion. Because of what (our opponents) are doing, does make a big difference when you sit in a room and start talking about that stuff.”
When it comes to what’s happening on the field, the Panthers offense arguably had its best game against the Salukis in what’s been a season of impressive performances. Quarterback Theo Day — who earned College Football Performance co-national performer of the week honors — completed 27 of 32 attempts for 330 yards and five touchdowns.
“Theo’s been tremendous,” Farley said. “What I really noticed on Sunday were the tremendous catches that were made. It was a group effort, but it’s led by Theo.”
Defensively, UNI still is looking for more after giving up 36 points and recording its third game this season without a sack, marking the first time since 2012 it’s had three sackless games.
“We played good defense in the first half against what they were doing,” Farley said. “They came out throwing the football a lot more than what I anticipated them doing. By doing so they took us out of a lot of our stuff that maybe we had prepped for.”
The Panthers injury report continues to grow ahead of next week’s late bye week.
Defensive end Caden Houghtelling remains questionable with an undisclosed injury and tight end Alex Allen’s season is likely over after suffering an injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s win.
“So we’re going into (game) number 10 and we haven’t had a break since Aug. 3 when we came into camp, so that’s getting noticeable on that training room sheet that I get,” Farley said. “It’s starting to show up that this being the 10th game that we have to be smart. We still want to be aggressive in how we practice, but we better be smart so that we’re ready to get the right guys on the football field come Saturday.”