CEDAR FALLS – With a lead and a stout defense behind it, Northern Iowa knows how to finish off victories.
The Panthers will grind it out on the ground, bleed the clock and make their opponents use up their timeouts.
So, what did UNI do with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left and a 21-14 lead over Youngstown State Saturday on a first-and-10 at its own 14? The Panthers went five wide and only quarterback Will McElvain in the backfield.
It looked out of character for head coach Mark Farley and his offensive staff. But as Farley explained afterwards, it was more about McElvain and his abilities.
“Whatever it takes to win,” laughed Farley. “I like our quarterback. I like our demeanor right now, and you better have confidence in your quarterback if you are doing that. It was the right thing to do at the right time.
“It made the difference in the game because we were pinned down there deep. But you have to have trust in your players and trust your receivers, too.”
McElvain was incomplete on his first pass with the five wide, but the next saw Isaiah Weston draw a pass interference call and then McElvain hit Aaron Graham for a 34-yard gain on a slant that basically sealed the victory.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS: UNI had 13 plays of 10 or more yards, including four pass plays of 34 or more yards, and drew three pass interference penalties on plays the Panthers had receivers open deep but were interfered with.
“I tell you what, it takes protection,” Farley said. “It takes a good plan to hold protection that long. It takes a good ball and a great catch to bring it down and all those things happened for us.”
RUN GAME: The numbers weren’t shiny, just 99 yards on 35 carries, but take away McElvain’s negative-13 rushing yards, the Panthers moved the ball on the ground when they needed including several huge runs.
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Trevor Allen, Tyler Hoosman and Alphonso Soko combined to carry the ball 25 times for 117 yards, a 4.7 yards per carry average.
Farley noted UNI’s second scoring drive that saw Hoosman go 24 yards on a third-and-19 play, and Allen finishing it off with hard-nosed runs of 14 and 10, the second for a touchdown, with huge lead blocks coming from Jackson Scott-Brown and Trevor Penning on those plays.
“How about the drive where we third and forever and we popped the draw,” Farley said. “And, then we finished the drive with the power to push it in the end zone. That is how you have to finish games. That is how you win games. You have to have a run game.”
- A 42-yard second quarter reception was senior Jaylin James’ 100th career reception. The Des Moines native finished with two catches for 62 yards and now has 101 catches for 1,191 receiving yards.
- Isaiah Weston’s current four-game streak with a touchdown reception is the longest such streak in more than a decade for the Panthers.
- UNI had two rushing touchdowns Saturday, the first since freshman Nick McCabe scored one against Southern Utah.
THREE STARS1. Defensive line: Five sacks and eight tackles for loss from that group that rotated up to eight guys the entire game.
2. Isaiah Weston: In addition to the three catches for 108 yards and a touchdown, and he drew a key pass interference call late in the game.
3. Trevor Allen: 74 rushing yards and a touchdown for the senior running back.