UNI Starts Red Hot, Williams Career Day Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive
The UNI Panther football squad still has hope for a postseason birth after their victory over Missouri State on Saturday, 41-20, and moving to 4-4 on the season.
And talk about a hot start.
On just the second play from scrimmage, Bears quarterback Jason Shelley threw an interception right into the hands of sophomore cornerback Stefan Black II on MSU's own nine.
One snap later, Dom Williams scampered nine yards for his first score of the day. The Panthers led 7-0 just 51 seconds into the contest.
UNI's next possession took a tad longer, traversing 73 yards over ten plays and 5:22, and the Kansas transfer lept in for his second score. UNI's lead extended to 14-0 after a Matthew Cook PAT with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
This is what Head Coach Mark Farley had to say of the start:
That's up there (with the best starts we've had). We've been emphasizing coming out faster and creating plays, and we did that.
Williams added this:
(The sideline) was crazy. Since I've been here, we've never started that fast. When those first couple plays happened, we knew we were on fire.
After exchanging several punts, co-offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder showed off some creativity with a 30-yard double pass from UNI leading receiver Sam Schnee to standout tight end Alex Allen but the Panthers had to settle for a 25-yard field goal by Matthew Cook, making the lead 17-0 with 7:58 left in the half.
Missouri State added a score of their own in the first half, traveling 75-yards over 3:46 and finishing the drive on a 15-yard pass from Shelley to a wide-open Naveon Mitchell with 4:02 left in the half. And just like that the Panther lead shrunk to 17-7.
Theo Day had another score in him, though. The Michigan State transfer led UNI on a 12-play, 79-yard drive that was capitalized by a 27-yard dart to sophomore wide receiver Sergio Morancy for the third Panther touchdown of the half, as the Florida native trotted into the endzone with four seconds remaining in the second quarter.
UNI took a 24-7 lead into the half.
After a three-and-out by the Panther offense to start the third quarter and a 38-yard punt return by the All-American Montrae Braswell, the Bears' offense scored on a dive into the end zone by fullback Trae Thompson to make the score 24-14 with 11:56 left in the third.
UNI bounced back with a touchdown of their own as Williams lept in for his third of the game. The lead moved to 31-14 with 7:49 left in the third.
That drive was perfectly orchestrated by Day, who made play after play, including three passes of ten-plus yards. One was a 37-yard thread of the needle to Cedar Falls native Logan Wolf, who finished with a single game-high in catches (six) and receiving yards (112).
This is what Farley had to say of Day's play:
He's getting better each week. You see his confidence, and the protection has been good. ... He can run for first downs, and he keeps his eyes down the field. He's an excellent quarterback.
Day finished the contest completing 22 of 37 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown.
Shelley began to look like his MVFC Offensive Player of the Year once again on the following possession, connecting with Tyrone Scott for a 22-yard gain and escaping the pocket for a 26-yard run on the next play. That drive came to an abrupt close on a Cordarrius Bailey strip sack that was recovered by Spencer Cuvelier at the UNI 15-yard line.
This is what Bailey said he saw on the play:
Khristian (Boyd) was coming up and (Shelley) stepped up into the pocket. I had a little bit of air. I knew (Boyd) was going to get double teamed, so I just tried to help him out.
Following the fumble recovery, Williams scored yet again with 14:56 remaining in the contest. Williams' fourth of the game tied a single-game program record for rushing TDs. The last to do it was Aaron Bailey, who also accomplished the same feat against Missouri State in 2015.
Farley had this to say of Williams' record-breaking effort:
Dom came out running, man. He made those first downs. He took the hit to them. ... He hit the hole, and he made to more yards when he hit it.
It wasn't just Williams that had an outstanding day statistically -- the defense set a season high in sacks with five -- two of which came from Bailey as well as Waterloo native Cannon Butler.
The final score of the day came off the boot of Cook with 4:15 to go. The field goal was the 63rd make of his career, tying for the second-most made in UNI and MVFC history.
Coach Farley said this of the win:
We couldn't have scripted it better. It came together the way we planned and talked about. ... That's one great game, but we've got another big one coming up. Each opponent gets bigger and better as we go forward, and we have to do the same.
Next week, the Panthers will travel to Carbondale to take on Southern Illinois (5-3, 4-1) at 2 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.