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Home / UNI football now waits for FCS selection show after blowout win over Western Illinois
CEDAR FALLS — Let the nail-biting begin.
A career-high 168 rushing yards from Dom Williams and stingy defense that totaled a single-game record 12 sacks sent Northern Iowa past Western Illinois 41-3 Saturday afternoon at the UNI-Dome.
The Panthers’ slim playoff hopes required a win, and in convincing fashion, to make their best possible case at 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. With that box checked now, their fate now lies squarely in the hands of the FCS playoff committee.
“We did what we could do, today, and hopefully other (teams) have done some things to help us,” UNI coach Mark Farley said.
Asked if he feels like his team is playoff worthy, there was no hesitation.
“Oh, absolutely. A no-brainer,” Farley said. “We’ve got the third-strongest schedule in FCS. I do think we have the ability to say the numbers speak for themselves that this is the most powerful (conference) in FCS football.”
UNI’s convincing win started sluggishly as Deion and Vance McShane both fumbled on first-quarter drives. The Panthers’ defense — which held the Leathernecks to only 117 total yards — overcame the offense’s mistakes, limiting WIU to three points after the turnovers.
“Very pleased with our defense. They played hard all year,” Farley said. “They stopped the run. They pressured the passer. Coverage (was) good. It was fun to see (Tim) Butcher and (Jared) Brinkman, who are the staples of the defense inside, and they finished with their sacks.”
Struggles on offense continued into the second quarter. On fourth-and-6 at WIU’s 38, quarterback Theo Day — who finished 14-for-23 passing for 241 yards and a touchdown — bobbled an early snap and fears of an upset, or sloppy, close win that would sink playoff hopes loomed.
“I thought we were doing some things that were unfocused and undisciplined, so we had to make an attitude adjustment,” Farley said of the offense. “Then, they started converting, because they started playing systematically.”
On UNI’s next possession, from its own 2, Williams got started on his career day with a program record 99-yard touchdown run to give UNI a 10-3 lead late in the second quarter.
The scoring continued after halftime — and picked up, with 21 third-quarter points.
Caden Houghtelling’s 10-yard sack of Connor Sampson put the Leathernecks (2-9, 2-6) at their own 2 and, after a short punt, the Panthers began their first drive of the second half in plus territory. Six plays later, freshman Terrance Kamara ran 14 yards for his first career touchdown to extend the lead to 17-3.
Lady luck showed up on the Panthers’ next possession. On third-and-7 from the UNI 32, Day was sacked and fumbled, but Kamara picked up the loose ball and gained 38 yards. One play later, Day connected with Sam Schnee on a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Leading 24-3, Austin Evans grabbed his first of two second-half interceptions and went 46 yards for a touchdown, making for an unforgettable senior day.
The Panthers added 10 fourth-quarter points on a 24-yard field goal by senior Nate Murphy and a 32-yard touchdown run by Vance McShane.
Defensive back Zac Kibby also created a Senior Day memory with his first career interception on WIU’s final drive.
“Feels really good (for) all three of them,” Farley said. “(Evans) came in here and really became a great football player for us. (Murphy), to be able to kick in his last game, because we talked about that earlier in the week. Then, Kibby, Kibby is UNI. He’s a UNI guy.”
The FCS Playoffs selection show airs Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU.