CEDAR FALLS -- Youngstown State's last four visits to the UNI-Dome resulted in heartbreaking, one-score defeats.
Saturday's trip to Cedar Falls to face 15th-ranked Northern Iowa was more of the humbling variety.
The Panthers (3-1) jumped on the Penguins (1-3) early and often in their Missouri Valley Football Conference opener and cruised to their third straight victory, 34-7.
UNI made big plays on offense, defense and special teams to build a 10-0 advantage.
"I was very pleased with our football team," said UNI head coach Mark Farley. "I think it started with our rushing game. They did a great job. Then we threw the deep ball and made some fantastic catches. I thought we really played a sound first half."
The Panther defense has been tenacious all season. Saturday provided another impressive performance.
"It was a lot of fun," said linebacker Spencer Cuvelier, who led UNI with 17 tackles. "Guys everywhere in the secondary and up front just flying around to the ball and being ball hawks."
Now the offense is making an impact, too.
"We made a lot of progress over the two weeks," said Farley, whose team was coming off a bye week. In fact, the Panthers were warned for celebrating a little too much at one point Saturday.
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"It's a pleasant surprise when the referee comes to you and says, 'Hey, you're celebrating but be careful in celebrating because you're celebrating too long.'"
Panther punter Nate Murphy delivered a kick that was downed inside the Youngstown State 1-yard line at the end of the first UNI possession. The Panther defense, which ranked 13th nationally against the run this week, stuffed the Penguins and UNI regained possession at the YSU 48-yard line.
After a two-yard loss, Vance McShane struck for the first points when he slipped free down the middle of the field, cradled a perfect pass from Theo Day and stepped through a tackle attempt at the 20 on his way to a 50-yard scoring play at the 9:53 mark.
Youngstown State missed a chance to answer just a few plays later. On a third-and-eight, quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw slithered his way out of three potential sacks and found a receiver all alone behind the UNI defense only to watch Panther cornerback Omar Brown come from 10 yards away to break up the throw at the last second.
"Omar, he's just got that nose for the football," said Cuvelier. "He was immediately backpedaling ... he almost had an interception on that play. He's an incredible athlete. It's good to know that guy's behind us saving our backs at a time like that."
A 35-yard scamper by Dom Williams set up Matthew Cook's 44-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead with 6:59 left in the period.
UNI was just getting warmed up.
The Panther defense continued to pluck the Penguins, getting a turnover on downs and a fumble recovery by Jared Brinkman on a ball knocked out of Crenshaw's hands by Devin Rice.
Offensively, Williams raced 58 yards to make it 17-0, Bradrick Shaw converted the fumble into a 30-yard TD run, and after a 69-yard scoring pass from Day to Deion McShane was negated by a penalty, UNI put together a seven-play scoring drive capped by Isaiah Weston's grab of a 23-yard pass into the end zone for a 31-0 halftime lead.
The stats illustrated how dominant a half it was for the Panthers.
UNI outgained Youngstown State 320-129 despite running 11 fewer plays. The Panthers rushed for 173 yards (seven carries, 102 yards) and Day passed for 147 (8 of 12).
The lead grew to 34-0 5:17 into the second half on Cook's second field goal, again from 44 yards away, before the Panthers backed off the throttle and worked their backup players into the rotation.
Day finished 11 of 16 for 188 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. Williams ran 11 times for 119 yards and receivers Quan Hampton, Weston and Vance McShane all had between 45 and 59 receiving yards.
"I thought we played well," said Day, who was making his second start for UNI. "I'm definitely getting more comfortable by day, by practice. Having these two weeks of practice with the bye week last week has been helpful. I've been able to build the chemistry with the receivers.
"Coming in here I really didn't know the type of receivers that were going to be here, but seeing who we have in the room and even some people who aren't playing yet but are just super talented across the board whether it be the running back or receiver room ... I'm excited to work with these guys going forward."
By midway through the third quarter, UNI owned a 193-53 edge in rushing yards and a 384-173 advantage in total offense with 14 fewer offensive snaps. Youngstown State's longest play of the game was a late 23-yard pass, and the Penguins never reached the red zone until Crenshaw threw a consolation TD pass in the final minutes. Their deepest foray into Panther territory until then was to the 34 where a 56-yard field goal try was wide.
"There's a few teams in our league you model," said Youngstown State Coach Doug Philips. "Northern Iowa is one of those teams, and we're certainly not there yet."
UNI plays at North Dakota State next Saturday.
"We're lucky right now," said Farley. "We've got a good football team with good players who play hard."