Third Down Woes

UNI Falls 23-21 to Illinois State on Homecoming

An upward trending UNI (2-3) hosted Illinois State (2-2) for this year’s homecoming game in Cedar Falls. The Panthers were coming off of a 20-14 win over Indiana State and looking to continue rolling in game two of their current four game home stand. With two wins the previous two weeks the Panthers were looking to get themselves back to even on their overall season record. Unfortunately, the Redbirds had other plans.

Northern Iowa had the first possession of the game and, unlike last week, were forced into a three and out. Illinois State wasted no time on offense, literally, as they came out with a rapid attack no huddle look early in the possession. The Panthers played stout defense in the early downs, but third down continued to be a struggle as the Redbirds were able to convert three third downs on the opening drive to keep marching down the field.  Illinois St drew first blood on a Zack Annexstad to to Bryson Deming three yard pass. UNI answered with a score of their own as Theo Day was able to hit Sergio Morancy in stride for a 53 yard touchdown pass on the next possession. Illinois State answered back with a field goal on their third possession of the first quarter. Again, Northern Iowa forced long third down plays, but couldn’t slow down the Redbird offense until getting into the red zone. Illinois tacked on a field goal to make the score 10-7, which is where the game stood at the end of one quarter played.

Illinois State opened the second quarter with a drive that started at their own 32 yard line, taking nearly eight minutes off the clock and capping it with a three yard touchdown plunge by Wenkers Wright to give ISU a 17-7 lead. UNI was able to string together a solid answering drive featuring big gainers from Sam Schnee and Dom Williams. Schnee turned a five yard out pattern into a 27 yard gain to get the Panthers across midfield. Williams took the rock and toted it to the three yard line on a 31 yard carry, finishing it off with a three yard dive that had to be reviewed before the scoreboard changed. The Redbirds counters with a four and a half minute drive to close out the half, finishing it off with another field goal from Ian Wagner, making the score 20-14 Illinois State at the half. Illinois State dominated the first half stats. They had 17 first downs compared to UNI’s six, and also out-gained the Panthers 275-159.

Illinois State came out in the second half with a five minute drive that resulted in a yet another Redbird field goal from Wagner, this time from 42 yards. ISU was able to convert three third down and medium to longs to work their way down the field before UNI was finally able to hold them short of the line to gain. Northern Iowa had a very nice drive going on their first drive the second half, but a fumble derailed their efforts. Theo Day had faked to the left on an option look, and then stepped back to throw when he caught all kinds of Braydon Deming in his lap. The ball was knocked loose and recovered by Illinois State at the ISU 43 yard line. The UNI defense stiffened up and force a three and out, getting the ball back on their own nine yard line. They marched down the field, running out the third quarter at the Illinois State 16 yard line. The drive featured two tough runs from quarterback Theo Day, and another powerful run from Vance McShane.

As the 4th quarter started, Northern Iowa drove into the red zone and capped the drive with a six yard Sam Schnee touchdown run on a jet sweep making the score 23-21 Illinois State with 12:50 to play in the game. A play before that the Panthers converted a fourth and goal with a Day QB sneak. The Panther defense struggled to get off the field on third down again as Illinois State was able to drive into the UNI red zone, but a missed field goal left the door open for the Panthers. They started the drive on their own 20 yard line and had 5:26 on the clock. The Panthers got two first downs from Sam Schnee to get them started and crossed midfield as McShane carried for another first down. Unfortunately, that was all the first downs the Panthers could muster on the drive and turned it over to the Redbirds at the ISU 39 yard line with 1:31 remaining in the game. UNI was able to stop the Redbirds and force a punt, which they fair caught at the 19 yard line with 1:16 left on the clock. The Panthers were able to drive to the Illinois state 41 yard line, but a sack on third down, with no timeouts left, allowed the final 12 seconds to tick off of the clock and sealed an Illinois State win.

Northern Iowa head coach Mark Farley said, “You can’t get angry, you have to get smart.” He elaborated by saying that his team and staff need to find ways to correct what they’re doing to allow them to find the wins they are close to getting. Coach Farley was optimistic, however. He said that despite the defense struggling to get off the field on third down the Panther defense only gave up three points in the second half, which Farley noted, “Was enough to win”.

Northern Iowa will return to action next week at home in the UNI-Dome, against Utah Tech, for game three of a four game home stand. Kick off will be at 4:00 pm.



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