The U.N.I. football team has a chance to clinch a share of the Missouri Valley Football Conference championship Saturday when the Panthers travel to Illinois State for their regular season finale. U.N.I. coach Mark Farley says his team is lucky to still have a shot at the league crown, considering their loss to North Dakota State two weeks ago.
Farley says they are playing for the conference championship and that’s the bottom line, and they control their own destiny. He says a couple of weeks ago they had a “hard pill to swallow” in their loss to North Dakota, but now have a chance to win the league.
The Panthers got a big boost from the return of running back Carlos Anderson last Saturday. The senior had missed several games with an ankle injury, but returned to the line-up with a 116 yard effort against Southern Utah. Farley says it was great to see Anderson playing well again and says he was excited for him because he had the big game after a long season in trying to come back from injury.
Illinois State had more than a dozen transfers join their program a year ago, and Farley says that those players have really come together and have the Redbirds playing well. He says they struggled to put thins together early in the season, and now they have it together and are playing well.
Farley has gone out of his way to not discuss the postseason, and he says that’s a product of trying to keep his team focused on their next challenge. He says the team has to stay in the day-to-day element, and he says that’s hard to do when everyone wants to look ahead.
Illinois State has won five straight and coach Brock Spack’s team had last week off. He says the bye concerns him because they were on a roll, but he says they were mentally and physically fatigued and should be rested.
Spack says the key against the U.N.I. offense is to keep quarterback Terrell Rennie in the pocket. He says Rennie is such a good athlete and it becomes an issue when the offense breaks down and he starts to run.
The Rebirds are 7-3 overall and while Spack feels they have already done enough to get into the FCS national playoffs their only concerned with the Panthers right now. He says it’s a big game no matter what is at stake and their focus is on being successful and beating the Panthers.
U.N.I. is 8-2 overall.
By Jesse Gavin KCNZ Cedar Falls