BROOKINGS, S.D. — Northern Iowa’s football team woke up Sunday morning with the knowledge its season had ended in Brookings, South Dakota less than 18 hours earlier still fresh on their memories.
For 15 seniors, the pain will linger longer as for all but a small handful with potential future professional endeavors, their football careers are over.
The argument could be made that the Panthers season also started in Brookings, S.D., and what an incredible run it was for UNI starting with that 38-18 win on Oct. 14 over the Jacks, right up to the 37-22 second-round FCS playoff loss to SDSU.
At 2-3 on Oct. 14, only those inside that locker room and in those coaches offices, still felt the playoffs were a possibility for the Panthers.
But UNI persevered, finished the regular season 5-1 to make its 19th overall playoff appearance and become the 15th Panther team since the program joined the I-AA level in the 1980s to win a playoff game.
On Saturday, with a motivated opponent looking to avenge that regular-season loss and two weeks to prepare, the Panthers couldn’t keep up with a team that will be heavily favored again this Saturday against New Hampshire in a quarterfinal game.
Following Saturday’s game, a question was asked of senior linebacker Jared Farley if an SDSU team that played so poorly the first time would come out stronger in the playoffs.
Like his father, UNI head coach Mark Farley, Jared said, “they were good then.”
Mark took over from there.
“They were good the last time,” he said. “It is the same two football teams. We were probably bad this time. But we have a good football team, too. Opponents have a lot to do with wins and losses, and today SDSU did a nice job.”
What was different about the second meeting was SDSU didn’t commit a series of unforced errors in the first quarter and stake the Panthers to a 17-0 lead like it did on Oct. 14.
Instead, the Jacks scored on their opening possession and then scored on their next four. UNI’s defense, which had been nothing short of spectacular in closing weeks, simply could not get the Jacks off the field.
Therefore, UNI’s offense could never fully break out its entire game plan of pound away with Marcus Weymiller, mixing in tosses to Daurice Fountain and his receiving mates, while controlling the ball.
Everything UNI wanted to do Saturday, SDSU did just a little better against the Panthers and that was the gist of the game.
Mark Farley broke it down best.
Despite SDSU moving the ball up and down the field, the Jacks only led the Panthers 13-7 midway through the second quarter. UNI had a third and 10 at the SDSU 40 when Fountain broke free over the middle on the slant with no defender within 20 yards of him. Pressured, UNI quarterback Eli Dunne was just off target and the ball fell incomplete.
UNI punted, SDSU proceeded to drive the length of the field and scored and the Panthers never really recovered.
“That is football,” Farley said. “One, I could say we missed it. Two, I could say they played good defense. That is some of what I said, it was because of the opponents and that is why I credit them.”