Macomb, Illinois — Things looked familiar when the Northern Iowa soccer team pulled out of Hanson Field, Saturday, after their 52-17 defeat in western Illinois in the Missouri Valley FC Conference game.
Not only did the Panthers claim their first win of the season, but they did so in a controlling fashion throughout all three phases of the game.
Yes, the offense faced its own struggle in the first quarter and the defense allowed a litter time to drop late. However, according to UNI coach Mark Farley, Saturday’s win showed a marked improvement and a near-execution that he and the rest of the UNI coaching staff and Panthers fans had expected.
“The defense has made progress,” Farley said. “They did over the past two weeks, but today they showed up and made progress and started looking like the defense we are all used to seeing. We didn’t hit all the cylinders all the time, but we definitely hit all the cylinders often.”
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The statistics support Farley’s two-week improvement, too. After forcing only two kicks and three turnovers in the first two games, UNI began defending itself last week against Sacramento State by forcing five balls.
Wu Governor, UNI’s junior defensive back, noted the steps the Panthers took last week after stumbling out of the gate.
“The second half of last week against Sac State, we really showed our true colors,” the governor said. “We were able to finally let go. Really what the first two games were like… We were thinking a lot. We were trying to be so perfect. We got caught trying to find that identity. All we have to do is be us.”
On Saturday, the Panthers showed no shadows of that over-thinking loneliness in the game. UNI’s defense choked the Leathernecks’ offense and forced them to turn three times, two out of three doubles and halted them at less than 300 yards.
According to the governor, UNI took the momentum it built in the second half against the Hornets and pushed it into a solid week of preparation and practice.
The governor said: “Today we went out confident in ourselves.” “We brought our cinematic preparation and study for the film. It was what everyone was able to watch.”
The defensive line also appeared and impacted the game with four sacks from WIU midfielder Clay Bruno after only scoring three sacks in the previous three games.
The sacks, the sales, and the earnings go together, Farley said. The coach said if you don’t get sacks and spins, you don’t win.
He added that he feels that Saturday’s win has provided a better representation of what UNI’s defense can be and feels much better about it having sparked the attitude and efforts of his team after their recent loss.
“The Air Force game was such a mystery that it spoiled you for two weeks,” Farley said. “We got through that, and got better. Tonight, we came in and really started showing what this defense looks like against an ordinary attack.”
A return to defense wasn’t the only reason the Panthers fans pulled out of Saturday’s win with a sense of deja vu.
Leading 45-10 in the fourth quarter, UNI regained possession of the ball with 11:29 remaining in the ball game.
Instead of starting quarterback Theo Day — who threw in his career high three times and 260 yards — new quarterback Aidan Dunne, cousin of former UNI quarterback Eli Dunne, led the attack in their last two stops.
Dunne led 17 plays, a 78-yard drive which burned 9:56 of the hour and extended UNI’s lead to 52-10 with 1:23 left in the game.
When asked why he went with Dunn on supposed backup Matt Morrissey, Farley gave a simple response.
“I think he spoke for himself,” Farley said. “I think the way he plays – how stubborn he plays – is a winner. That’s what you need…Aidan, man, he did a great job.”
Plus, sophomore back and eastern Illinois transfer Harrison Bay Boy—who was the UNI coach who turned his back on Austin recently compared to former Terrance Freeney—has hit the ball 11 times in the last round and scored the Panthers’ final goal.
Farley described the Bey-Buie as a “hackuva running back” and said he and Dunne took their chance with a good match in hand.
“We have people in the wings,” Farley said. “When you get your chance, make the most of your chance, regardless of the outcome, because you are being looked at. I think they showed up tonight.”