CEDAR FALLS — No. 16 Northern Iowa got its second upset win in as many weeks Saturday afternoon at the UNI-Dome, 23-16, over No. 3 Southern Illinois.
Photos: UNI football vs. Southern Illinois University, Oct. 30
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“They’ve found another gear of how to play,” UNI coach Mark Farley said. “They’re playing four quarters of football. They’re playing with a lot of pride as a group. I think that’s been the biggest change. You play the game and you play the team and all that stuff, but I think when you really reach deep to win these kind of games there’s got to be a pride factor of who you’re playing with, who you’re playing for.”
With a minute remaining in the first half, trailing 13-3, UNI (5-3, 3-2) began its comeback.
Starting from its own 47, quarterback Theo Day — who completed 14-26 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns — connected with Deion McShane for gains of 18 and 10. Then, after a defensive holding penalty on SIU, Matthew Cook’s 31-yard field goal put the Panthers back within a possession at 13-6.
On the first play of the second half, Bradrick Shaw — who ran 24 times for 126 yards — gained 38 to put UNI in SIU territory. Six plays later Day hit Sam Schnee in stride for a 19-yard touchdown to even the score at 13.
“It was key to get into halftime with those three points that we got and stay within seven,” Farley said. “We couldn’t establish the run in the first half and thus we were, as I say, guessing a little bit trying to make passes happen. When you establish the run game you really establish who you are. We went out in the second half wanting to establish that run game so we got in 12 personnel which is the big guys and just started pounding it with (Bradrick) and ultimately that’s really what wore them down.”
The Salukis (6-2, 4-1) answered and regained the lead briefly, 16-13, with a 33-yard field goal, but the Panthers offense continued its third quarter rhythm.
14 plays and 79 yards later, UNI regained its lead and wouldn’t relinquish it. Day capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Fourtenbary, while Shaw and Vance McShane combined for 41 rushing yards on the drive.
“We just wanted to come out (in the second half) and run the ball more,” Shaw said. “In the first quarter we felt like it was working. We just wanted to get back to it. (Coach Farley) leaned on the running back group.”
Baker — who completed 27-42 passes for 306 yards and one touchdown — saw the Salukis comeback bid nearly go up in flames when his pass from UNI’s 18 was deflected by Jared Brinkman and intercepted by Caden Houghtelling with eight minutes to play. SIU got the ball back though with just over four minutes remaining, but suffered its third turnover on downs of the game when Khristian Boyd stuffed Javon Williams Jr. on 4th and 2 at the Saluki 40.
“That’s my first (pass breakup), so I’m really really happy about that. I didn’t know if I’d be getting that ever in my career, but I love it,” Brinkman said with a laugh. “That QB wasn’t the tallest and I’m not either, so, it worked out.”
Cook — who converted all three of his field goals — extended the Panthers lead to 23-16 after the turnover on downs with a 44-yard field goal, setting up one last opportunity for a Salukis comeback.
Baker and the SIU offense moved quickly on their final drive, getting to the UNI nine, but four pass attempts, including a fourth and 14 attempt after a false start was broken up by Stefan Black, sealing the comeback win and giving the Salukis their first Missouri Valley Conference loss.
“Even though last week was a big win and a big deal, it was to find another gear this week to take your game to another level,” Farley said. “With this (SIU) football team we knew it was going to go to the end.”
UNI travels to Normal next Saturday for a Noon kickoff against Illinois State (3-5, 1-4).