Theo Has a Day, Cook Ties Record, UNI Escapes for Third Straight
It was Theo's Day in Carbondale on Saturday against Southern Illinois. The starting quarterback for Northern Iowa finished with 330 yards and five touchdowns through the air in a 37-36 squeak-out victory over the Salukis.
In the first half for the Panthers, the message from offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder was clear -- spread the wealth, and score, score, score, score. UNI finished each of its four first possessions of the game with a touchdown, all by a different receiver. Desmond Hutson, Sergio Morancy, Deion McShane, and Sam Schnee all caught passes for scores, all followed up by made PATs from Matthew Cook.
Schnee led all receivers through the first two quarters with seven catches for 89 yards.
Day was locked in firing passes all over the field and completing 18 of 20 passes for 242 yards and those four scores. Prior to Saturday's contest, Day's career high for passing touchdowns in a game was three. He surpassed that with a whole half to go.
Day had this to say postgame:
We were rolling. ... We were calling great plays in great situations and at one point we were six-for-six on third downs and we were making plays when we needed to. Those four first half touchdowns definitely felt good.
Coach Mark Farley put it simply:
Theo Day is the real deal.
SIU and quarterback Nic Baker had some offensive success of their own, scoring on a screen pass Avante Cox took 48 yards for the Salukis score with 3:24 to go in the first. Baker handed off to fullback Jacob Garrett for a two-yard score in the second quarter as well, and thus, the Panthers took a 28-17 lead into the half in Carbondale.
The third quarter didn't start as smoothly for the UNI offense.
On the first snap from scrimmage, Day took a shot on a strip sack that gave the Salukis the ball back. Two plays, 14 yards, and a missed two-point conversion later, the lead was just 28-23.
Day said he didn't see the incoming blitz:
We had a downfield shot opening out and I had my eyes stuck on the deep route to Sergio. ... It was a tough way to start the second half, but it kind of woke me up and made me realize there was a long way to go.
UNI's offense wasn't able to get into the endzone on the ensuing drive despite making it all the way to the Saluki nine-yard line, but Cook booted through his 64th career field goal to tie the UNI and Missouri Valley Football Conference all-time record and move the score to 31-23.
A two-yard score by Shaun Lester and another missed two-point conversion on Southern Illinois' next possession made the score 31-29.
Yet another empty drive for the Panther offense gave the ball back to SIU at the start of the fourth quarter. Baker proceeded to lead Southern Illinois on a nine-play, 88-yard drive that was capped by another touchdown pass to Cox with 11:18 left in the game.
The Salukis took their first lead of the game since Jake Baumgarte kicked in a 20-yard field goal with 9:14 left in the first quarter.
UNI finally got back into a flow offensively on their next possession, as Dom Williams covered 36 of their 75 yards before Hudson caught his second touchdown of the game, holding onto a laser from Day in the back of the endzone, giving the lead right back to the Panthers.
Alex Allen was unable to haul in a pass from Day on the two-point conversion, keeping the score at 37-36.
The next 5:55 took 10 years off every Panther fan's life.
Not only did SIU's Baumgarte miss a go-ahead, 40-yard field goal that would've taken the lead with 47 seconds remaining, but after three Vance McShane runs and three Saluki timeouts, Baker and SIU got an extra chance. A few extra chances, to be exact.
On what was expected to be the final play of the game, defensive end Cordarrius Bailey jumped offsides, giving Southern Illinois another opportunity after an intercepted ball by Jevon Brekke.
With no time left, Baker launched another deep ball high into the air and into the hands of receiver Jay Jones for 42 yards before his knee went down on the UNI one-yard lin.
The Panthers escaped with their third straight win, 37-36.
Senior captain and linebacker Spencer Cuvelier said this of the last play:
What an emotional game. I don't know if I've ever been a part of something like that. We were trying to keep calm and make a play at the end. That's a 50/50 ball and it came down on our side.
Coach Farley added this:
(Carbondale) is a hard place to play and a hard place to travel to. ... The resilience (of our team), man. ... We knew it was going to come down to somebody's last drive, but we came out on the right end.
Next week, UNI will face No. 1 South Dakota State and MVFC rival in the UNI-Dome at 4 PM.