110219-Northern Iowa 1

UNI wide receiver Suni Lane hauls in a 27-yard touchdown pass against Illinois State Saturday.

CEDAR FALLS — Good teams make occasional plays that alter football games. Great teams make bunches of big plays that win games.

Saturday in Northern Iowa’s 27-10 victory over Illinois State, the Panthers made a bunch and head coach Mark Farley took notice.

Farley said there were three events that he felt contributed to UNI’s Top 10 showdown win over the Redbirds.

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The first came early in the second quarter with the game tied at 7-all. Devin Taylor picked off a Will McElvain pass to set Illinois State up at the UNI 36. But on a 4th and 1 play at the Panther 27, Omar Brown fought off a blocker and tackled James Robinson for a 1-yard loss and the Redbirds got no points out of great field position.

“I thought that was a huge play at the time because their trademark is their rushing game,” Farley said. “That was kind of a test of will on that play for both football teams and that took a score away from them. It was a great play. Two teams hitting head-to-head and a critical play with how it played out.”

UNI held Illinois State to just 75 yards on 26 carries, and James Robinson, the seventh leading rusher in the FCS, had just 39 on 16.

The next big event again came after a UNI turnover. Trailing 14-7, Illinois State recovered a muffed punt at the Panther 30. After allowing a first down, UNI’s defense stiffened and only gave up a 34-yard Sam Fenlason field goal that kept the Panthers in the lead with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.

“That was huge,” Farley said.

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Then, there were two events that encompassed several big plays in the fourth quarter that allowed UNI to pull away.

The first was a nine-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in McElvain slipping out of a sack and hitting Suni Lane for a 27-yard score and a 21-10 lead to open the fourth quarter.

“Those are the type of football plays you need to make to be a great football team,” Farley said. “That is the difference between being good or great when you start seeing plays like that.”

The second and final daggers came in the fourth quarter when Illinois State was forced to go into a strong wind and that led to the Redbirds committing three turnovers in a span of four plays and UNI boosting its lead to 27-10.

“They had to go against the wind and that was the difference in creating some of those turnovers,” Farley said.

All that added up to one huge victory and start of what could be a special month with a home game against Indiana State Saturday at 4 p.m. inside the UNI-Dome.

“Our defense is really playing together right now and we have a couple of defenses we can do it in. Offense, that group is starting to come around and work well together, and we have room to grow which excites me,” Farley added. “We are in a good place right now leaving Illinois State.”

NATIONAL SEED?: At 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the MVFC, UNI has tested itself against one of the best schedules in FCS football through nine games.

Wednesday night, UNI will be receiving a mid-term grade of sorts when the FCS playoff selection committee releases its lone Top 10 ranking at halftime of the Miami (Ohio) at Ohio game on ESPN2. That game kicks off at 7 p.m. (Central).

The win over the Redbirds and losses by No. 5 Kennesaw State and No. 6 Sacramento State will mostly like see the Panthers rise in the FCS Stats poll, but also within the Top 8 of the FCS poll, a predictor for which teams the selection committee believes are worthy of a seed in the 24-team FCS playoff field.

A seed means UNI would receive a bye Thanksgiving weekend and would host a round-of-16 game inside the UNI-Dome on Dec. 7.

The FCS playoff field will be announced at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU on Nov. 24.

MVFC HONORS: True freshman cornerback Omar Brown of Minneapolis earned Defensive Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week honors after tallying two interceptions, a tackle for a loss and five tackles.

With his two interceptions Saturday, Brown is now tied for fifth in the country with five interceptions and leads the MVFC.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING: After holding its second consecutive opponent to less than 210 yards, UNI now ranks 11th nationally and third in the MVFC in total defense. The Panthers are giving up just 307.2 yards per game. UNI has also jumped to 17th in the country in rush defense (115.2).

After hauling in five passes for 68 yards against the Redbirds, sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Weston dropped to second in the FCS in yards per reception (24.97). He is tied for seventh with 10 receiving touchdowns.

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