WOO! Panthers Get First Victory of 2022 over Western Illinois
Just call them the Sour Patch Kids of the Missouri Valley Football Conference (MVFC). Because that first half for Northern Iowa was sour, but man, was the second half sweet on Saturday.
That's when the Panthers built a comfortable lead, Woo Governor made his presence known, and UNI stole an MVFC victory on the road.
But first, the purple and gold had Head Coach Mark Farley puckering big time on the sideline.
After an empty first possession by the Panther offense, the Leathernecks neared the endzone on a thirty-yard bomb from starting quarterback Clay Bruno to wideout Jay Parker. A few plays later, Benny Sapp III dove and grabbed his first interception of the season to give the purple and gold the ball back.
Other than that, all the first quarter gave us was a few punts.
Then, Alex Allen and Sam Schnee found their time to shine. Allen caught two passes for 35 yards on the first possession of the second quarter before a six-yard pass from Theo Day to Quan Hampton resulted in the first touchdown of the contest.
One ten-yard pass from Bruno to Donald McKinney over the middle and a gift of a facemask penalty from the UNI defense gave WIU a 34-yard field goal.
Allen caught another 18-yard pass from Day and Sam Schnee hauled in a 17-yard leaping grab despite double coverage before several runs by Dom Williams who would trot in for a one-yard score to culminate the drive. UNI took their 17-3 lead into the half.
WIU started the second half with a quick touchdown pass from Bruno to Jaylen Reed -- a 10-yard completion, Reed bounced off several UNI would-be tacklers for a long 47-yard touchdown.
UNI led by just seven points in the third quarter against a team they defeated 41-3 in 2021.
Then Day and the offense took control.
On a drive that saw a ten-yard scamper for UNI's starter and a 24-yard pass to Sergio Morancy, the Michigan State transfer completed a pass for an 11-yard score to Hampton -- their second touchdown connection of the day.
This is what captain and starting center Erik Sorensen said of the offense:
Theo has taken a lot of steps. Even from last year, to game to game. ... We're spreading the ball around so often, and it's hard to defend that.
Coach Farley added this:
Theo ran for some first downs, he's throwing the ball well, he's confident in his reads, and he's throwing the ball to everybody. ... I think Alex Allen and Sam Schnee are standouts. ... I think it'll only get better from here.
Then Woo Governor happened. Twice.
On a pass over the middle by Bruno that was tipped off the hands of Bryce Flater, Governor snagged his second pick of the season and returned it 43 yards to extend the UNI lead to 31-10.
No one at Hanson Field could have predicted he'd do it again, but just like he told me before game time just a few weeks ago:
You won't be the only one tweeting about me after today. I guarantee it.
Just a few moments and one possession later, Woo grabbed another pick in coverage, saw nothing but 49 yards of green, and returned the second pick-six of the game, and his life:
This is what he said post-game:
It's just a blessing. ... Shout out to Bryce Flater. On that first interception he played the heck out of the ball. ... On the second one, I was just able to catch it and it was wide open. That's just God's work. I'm speechless.
With one more quick drive capitalized by a score from the first team (a four-yard touchdown pass from Day to Desmond Hutson) followed by the backups eating up the clock and punching it in for a touchdown (a four-yard rush by Eastern Illinois transfer Harrison Bey-Buie), and a garbage time score for the Leathernecks, UNI got their first victory of the 2022 season, 52-17.
Up next, the Panthers will play Indiana State in the UNI-Dome on Saturday, October 1 at 4 PM. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+.