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Northern Iowa’s Jaylin James (83) picks up yardage on a pass reception as South Dakota State’s Chris Balster moves in to make the tackle Saturday.

JASON SALZMAN, FOR THE COURIER

BROOKINGS, S.D. — Mark Farley laid down a challenge just before his Northern Iowa football team took to the field to face seventh-ranked South Dakota State Saturday.

With another loss the Panthers season could’ve very easily spiraled out of control, with a win, who knows, but Farley knew his team had more in it, more than what it had shown during a 2-3 start to their season.

UNI answered the call with its most complete game of the season, a 38-18, smashing of the Jacks.

“We had to make a choice,” Farley said. “It was to either to step in and become the football team we want to be or continue going down the road we were on. They stepped up today, had a purpose and stayed through it.

“It was only one, but it was a great one.”

It was a much similar situation the Panthers faced two years ago when they went to Brookings and were 2-4. The Panthers edged another SDSU top-ten team, 10-7, with a late defensive stand and went onto to win seven consecutive games, reaching the FCS quarterfinals.

Farley says he can’t predict how the 2017 script will play out against the one that played out in 2015.

“Who knows what the script will be this year,” Farley said. “Again, this was one, and it moves us into position tomorrow to start working on the next one. We battled on the road against a great football team and now need to take this momentum and kind of play into next week’s game.”

UNI will be getting a hungry and angry Youngstown State team, the reigning national runner-up, that is coming off back-to-back three-point loses to South Dakota and North Dakota State, the loss to the Bison Saturday, 27-24, in overtime.

The Penguins (3-3, 1-2) have lost by a total of 13 points in their three losses as they opened the season with a 28-21 overtime loss to Pittsburgh.

Despite coming off a huge win, and Youngstown State coming in on a two-game losing streak, UNI feels like it will be the underdog once again.

“I like it,” safety Elijah Campbell said. “I like being doubted. We like being doubted and we feed off it. That is how we excel as a team.”

UNI won on Saturday with kind of mix it has envisioned it would play with all season long, but hadn’t been able to execute yet for four quarters.

The Panthers ran for a season-best 218 yards, getting 170 from Marcus Weymiller, converted several big third downs, held the ball for 40 minutes and 29 second, and the defense kept in check SDSU’S high-powered offense, holding the Jacks to a season-low 52 rushing yards on 23 carries.

The defensive effort came with a reconfigured lineup, as after watching teams attack the Panthers’ young defensive backfield, Farley moved Campbell from cornerback to free safety and A.J. Allen from outside linebacker to strong safety and inserting Wisconsin transfer Keelon Brookins in at outside linebacker.

“We just wanted to get some experience on the field,” Farley said. “We knew we were up against a challenging offense so we tried to get as much experience out there as we could.

Campbell and Allen helped limit SDSU’s big plays, although the Jacks did get free on a couple of long passes. But for the most part, the duo kept the plays in front of them, and additionally, the defensive line had perhaps its best game recording seven tackles for loss, including sacks by Brookins, getting his first substantial playing time outside of special teams, and Rickey Neal.

Brookins finished with five tackles, which ranked second behind Jared Farley’s seven. The seven tackles for loss accounted for a negative 36 yards in losses for the Jacks.

“A.J. is so intelligent,” Farley added. “Elijah, he was the one that was unselfish moving to free safety and we get Xavior (Williams) on the field and he did a great job.”

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Sports Reporter

Sports reporter for The Courier

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