The Cedar Valley is Missing Out on One of the Best Teams in UNI History
This Northern Iowa football team is one of the best I've seen in a while.
All three levels of the defense have All-Missouri Valley Football Conference talent. The offense, led by Theo Day, can attack opponents in a variety of ways. The special teams has a kicker in Matthew Cook that hit a 55-yard field goal two weeks ago. They have the reigning MVFC special teams player of the week:
This team is good. This team is really, really good.
Their talent, high football IQ, and ability to make plays was on display this last Saturday, as they took down the No. 3 team in the country, the Southern Illinois Salukis.
The Salukis came into the contest with one of the best offenses in the nation and have consistently found a way to win close games. As stated in our weekly preview article, SIU had won their last three games by a total of five points. They were also tied atop the MVFC standings with North Dakota State, which should tell you everything you need to know.
For such a momentous win, one would expect the UNI-Dome to be packed, as it was when the Panthers took down No. 1 NDSU during their streak of wins back in 2014.
And it's understandable why UNI doesn't get the following of an Iowa and an Iowa State. Generally speaking, schools that play in the FCS don't have similar budgets to the larger programs, they don't get the athletes the bigger schools do, and the environment isn't that of a stadium packed with 70,000 people. I get that.
But the Panthers have something special brewing.
The defense leads the MVFC in turnovers. Benny Sapp III and Omar Brown are one of the best defensive back duos in the country. Jared Brinkman is the reigning MVFC Defensive Player of the Year. Cade Houghtelling is breaking out as one of the best defensive players in the conference. Korby Sander has the capability to take someone's head off at all times. Stefan Black II, a FRESHMAN, made the game-winning pass break up in the final minute this weekend.
Day can put the ball anywhere. Isaiah Weston will soon be playing on Sundays and can dominate in any way he's asked to as the team's top receiver. Quan Hampton, Deon McShane, and Sam Schnee compliment him well and bring speed and excellent route-running to the table. Bradrick Shaw, Vance McShane, and Dom Williams are a three-headed monster of a backfield. Left tackle Trevor Penning is expected to be a FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICK IN THE NFL.
Oh, you want statistics to back all of that up? Benny Sapp III came away from this weekend with yet another pick, making it four on the season thus far. The interception he grabbed was this UNREAL snag:
Houghtelling recovered a fumble AND came away with an interception on Saturday. He's also got 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks this season. He doesn't even lead the team in sacks so far this year, Devin Rice does! After two this weekend, Rice leads the squad with four.
Spencer Cuvelier still leads the team in tackles with 73 despite missing the last two games. The others who fill out the linebacking corps like Alfonzo Lambert, Riley Van Wyhe, Bryce Flater, and Ben Belkin have combined for 145 tackles, eight tackles for loss, one interception, and one sack.
Bradrick Shaw carried the ball 24 times for 128 yards on Saturday. The trio of Shaw, Williams, and Vance McShane has put together 1,057 yards rushing and 10 TDs this season.
Weston has five touchdowns and 594 yards to his name on just 24 receptions. Hampton, McShane, and Schnee have 773 yards and four touchdowns on 69 receptions.
Day has passed for nearly 1400 yards through seven games, and has posted a 138.34 passer rating.
Not to mention, these guys are friends. They enjoy one another's successes. They celebrate accordingly.
Per Brinkman, the locker room after the win was "a pretty good time," with a big smile on his face.
He continued: "(Coach Mark) Farley was getting into it! When he's jumping up and dancing, you know it's a good day."
The tried and true Panther fans are showing up to these games. Just watch the highlights from this weekend and you'll be able to hear the crowd:
Zac Kibby, who's been around the program since 2015, had this to say following UNI's win:
Some students may not know much about Panther athletics, those in the community may be filling their time on Saturdays with to-do lists, and it's easy to stay in bed and watch Netflix or other big college football games.
BUT, this squad is worth the admission price. You won't be disappointed when you come out and support this team. They'll give you something to get excited about.
There will be one more home game the remainder of the season, where UNI will take on another MVFC rival, the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Tickets for that game can be purchased here.
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