The U-N-I Panthers bid for their first national title tonight when they collide with Appalachian State for the 1AA championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. For coach Mark Farley it is a chance to bring a championship to a school he play for in the mid 80s and the place his coaching career began. He says he’s worked with so many coaches and had so many teams go to the playoffs, but stumbled in trying to win the championship. Farley says all the former players and coaches are as excited about this as anything.
Tonight’s game caps off an improbable run for the Panthers who at one point stood 4-3 on the season. But the return of quarterback Eric Sanders from an ankle injury helped start a seven-game winning streak and U-N-I has won three straight games by three points in the playoffs, including two on the road. Farley says the team has a sense of ease. He says since the Western Kentucky game the team has a calmness and energy through all four quarters.
A sellout crowd of 20-thousand is expected in Chattanooga and the game will be televised nationally by ESPN. Farley says it’s great to have this type of atmosphere and he says it’s a great thing for the university. Sanders has led a U-N-I offense that has averaged 35-points per game in the playoffs. That unit will be tested by a tough Mountaineer defense. He says they’re going to go out and play football like they have the last seven weeks. Sanders says they’ll have to be balanced with the run and pass and not turn the ball over.
Sanders has seven touchdown passes but just one interception in the post-season and the Panthers have found ways to win the close games. He says players have stepped up around him and made him look good. Sanders says the defense has also stepped it up.
Sanders feels it was the Panther’s first overtime win of the season that got things going. He says they had to overcome so many things on the road at Western Kentucky that they thought they had something special.