CEDAR FALLS – Youngstown State’s ground game had pummeled its first four opponents into submission.
Saturday, Northern Iowa’s defense buried it in a 21-14 win.
The Penguins averaged 296 yards rushing a game, and 6.5 yards per rush while rolling to a 4-0 record. Against the Panthers, they finished with 55 yards on 36 carries, a 1.5 per carry average.
UNI racked up 10 tackles for loss and sacked Penguins quarterback Nathan Mays six times.
UNI has held its last three opponents to 69, 66 and 55 yards rushing.
“They’ve been playing pretty good,” UNI head coach Mark Farley said. “They got after this guy and we all said on the sideline that the defensive line played outstanding. It was a hard-effort game.
“And, multiple guys had to play because to go that long with that many rushes takes a lot of energy. That is why that crew ... include coach Paup (Bryce), that is his group, and he is very smart how he manages reps and it pays off when we get to the end of the game.”
UNI played eight defensive linemen in the game – Elerson Smith, Brawntae Wells, Jared Brinkman, Seth Thomas, Tim Butcher, Hezekiah Applegate, Caden Houghtelling and Kristian Boyd.
The depth played a huge part at the end of the game when UNI was clinging to its touchdown lead.
Youngstown State, beginning from its own 22, was grinding out a 15-play drive that ate up 7 minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter and the Penguins were at the UNI 14 facing a third-and-six. A strong pass rush gobbled up all the blockers, allowing outside linebacker Austin Evans to spring free on a blitz and he crushed Mays, forcing a fumble. Seth Thomas fell on it.
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Then with just under five minutes to go, Smith and Butcher converged on Mays for UNI’s sixth sack, forcing a punt, and UNI sealed the win by running out the remaining 3:59.
“Defensively, I was very pleased with the resilience,” Farley said. “That last drive when we had to make a play, they did. What I probably enjoyed most is how our defense can energize a building, and a building can energize a defense. That is what I saw today. I thought the fans were awesome.”
SACK THE QURTERBACK: One week after being held to just one tackle and no sacks, junior defensive end Elerson Smith recorded 2 ½ against the Penguins, including that big one late when he and Butcher got to Mays.
Smith now has 7 ½ sacks and 10 ½ tackles for loss.
“It was a fun atmosphere to play in and just to be able to make plays like that with my teammates, wouldn’t trade anything in the world for that,” Smith said.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: The Panther offense had four pass plays that went for 34 yards or more in the game and all three came at big times. Isaiah Weston caught a 39-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-nine play for UNI’s first score. He then hauled in a 47-yard pass on a third-and-16 that set up a Tyler Hoosman touchdown run. Jaylin James’ 42-yard reception on a third-and-11 sparked a drive that saw Trevor Allen cap it with a 10-yard touchdown run.
The final, a 37-yard slant to Aaron Graham came on the Panthers’ final possession of the game when they were trying to run out the clock.
“They are huge,” Farley said. “When people are playing the defenses that they are now, you’ve got to get behind them. They are really challenging you and there was a lot of man played today by Youngstown. That is their defense and they do it well, but we got behind them.”