CEDAR FALLS — As much as the University of Northern Iowa football team appreciates the efforts and sacrifice Colton Howell made to help the Panthers get into the FCS playoffs, they were glad to see starting quarterback Eli Dunne return to action Saturday.
Showing little rust, Dunne threw for four first-half touchdowns to match a career-best while leading UNI to a 46-7 win over Monmouth and a date next week in the second round with fifth-ranked South Dakota State in Brookings, S.D.
“What I noticed from Eli was he was very active, and he has a fresh arm now,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “The throws he made, particularly the one he made to Isaiah (Weston) on the touchdown, that was a pretty pass.
“Eli had a good day and that is good to see coming off a two-week rest.”
Dunne suffered an upper body injury midway through the first quarter in the Panthers’ road win at Missouri State. He could have played last week in UNI’s regular-season finale against Indiana State, but Farley chose to give him another week’s rest.
“It was extremely nice, especially in the playoffs and being injured the past couple of weeks,” Dunne said.
Dunne finished the day 18 of 26 for 260 yards, and he was 15 of 22 for 242 in the first half as UNI stormed to a 33-0 halftime lead. He played just one series in the third quarter before being replaced by Howell, who gave up his redshirt three weeks ago to lead the Panthers in must-win victories over Missouri State and Indiana State.
Daurice Fountain, who hauled in 10 catches for 139 yards and two scores, said he wasn’t surprised Dunne stepped in and played well.
“I knew that was going to happen,” Fountain said. “He’s been practicing the last couple of weeks, and even though he wasn’t 100 percent he was still good enough to throw.
“It was real nice to see him come out there and be real comfortable. You could tell he was playing with a different swagger today.”
HIGHLIGHT GRAB: “He gets it from his mom,” quipped Mark Farley when asked about his son Jared’s one-handed, toe-tipping touchdown catch in the first quarter that gave UNI a 14-0 lead.
It was the first offensive touchdown of his college career for Farley, a linebacker who scored earlier this season on a fumble return.
“It’s fun getting in there and playing with the offensive guys,” Farley said.
His teammates knew he’d catch it, but they might not have expected the theatrics.
“Showed off my athleticism a little bit,” Farley laughed. “I told them to put me in the slot if they needed to.”
Farley also rushed for a first down in the second quarter and has three first-down rushes on the season.
“He is a heck of a player and we are able to utilize him on offense,” Dunne said. “He made a one-handed grab which was awesome and really pumped us up.”