CEDAR FALLS — No. 9 Northern Iowa got a necessary win, 38-7, over last-place Western Illinois Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
With a 17-7 lead after halftime, UNI (8-4, 6-2 MVFC) linebacker Chris Kolarevic intercepted Connor Sampson on the Leathernecks’ first drive of the second half and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown, eliminating Western Illinois’ slim chances of a comeback.
“He’s so productive,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “You look at (all) the tackles he gets and he’s around the football. And when you can find your way to the ball good things are going to happen.”
Before the Panthers got their second-half separation, freshman receiver Logan Wolf provided a couple key plays in the second quarter.
On fourth-and-9 at the WIU 34, McElvain completed a 16-yard pass to Wolf. Five plays later, Matthew Cook kicked a 25-yard field goal to give UNI a 10-7 lead.
Later in the quarter UNI went up 17-7 when McElvain — who completed 10 of 18 passes for 154 yards — connected with Wolf for a 61-yard touchdown, the first of Wolf’s career.
“Wolf was a huge contributor,” Farley said. “When we went for it on fourth down at that time, that was a big part of the game.”
McElvain also helped provide a senior moment on Senior Day for Jaylin James as the duo hooked up for a 38-yard TD, increasing the lead to 31-7.
Senior running back Trevor Allen — who finished with 97 yards on 24 carries — scored the game’s first and last touchdowns.
UNI got the ball back once more after Allen’s final score and inserted senior QB Christian Ellsworth for the first and final snaps of his career.
“I saw (Ellsworth) after the game was over (at) the garage door then you knew how important (that) was to him when you saw the emotion he had in having that opportunity,” Farley said. “He’ll do something great in athletics. I have no doubt about it.”
Ellsworth and 11 other UNI seniors were recognized prior to Saturday’s game, including guard Jackson Scott-Brown who made his 45th consecutive start against the Leathernecks (1-11, 1-7).
“I was kind of getting choked up (before) the game, honestly,” Scott-Brown said. “It was just something to see how much dedication our parents have put in. How much dedication we’ve put into this thing. All that kind of just came together and it got me, and I came in the locker room and started getting fired up. Instead of crying I turned it into yelling at people.”
UNI’s chances of a top-8 seed and a first round bye in the FCS Playoffs increased Saturday as Youngstown State defeated No. 7 Illinois State 21-3 and South Dakota beat No. 5 South Dakota State 24-21, leaving the Panthers alone in second place in the Missouri Valley.
Regardless of how things were shaking out, though, Farley is already convinced his team is deserving of a seed.
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“Every loss we have are all top-10 teams on the road,” Farley said. “And the other one was Iowa State, who I would call a … they’re probably a top-20 team. So, all of those games were on the road and then we got the Illinois State (win) on the road. So, yes, I think we’re a top-8 seed. I don’t think there’s any question.”
The FCS Playoff Selection Show airs Sunday at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU.