Big plays by an opponent again doomed Western Illinois and sent the Leathernecks to their fifth loss of the spring season.
No. 22 Northern Iowa scored 10 points in the final minute of the first half and wound up 34-20 winners over the home-standing Leathernecks.
Northern Iowa scored on its first snap of the game — a 75-yard misdirection touchdown pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Justin Fomby to veteran Isaiah Weston — and the final snap of the half on a blocked field goal attempt.
“Really disappointed with the first play, one (WIU defensive) guy had bad eyes (and was looking in the backfield). He didn’t do his job,” Western head coach Jared Elliott said in the postgame. “They (Northern Iowa) did a really good job of creating penetration on the field goal.”
The win evened UNI’s record at 3-3 while Western fell to 0-5 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Three things Prairie State Pigskin learned in Western’s loss.
- Momentum can change on one play at any time
Just moments after Northern Iowa had taken a 10-7 lead on a field goal by Matthew Cook, Western’s Mason Laramie lined up for a potential game-tying 46-yard attempt.
“We executed an outstanding two-minute drive to give us a shot of tying the game up heading into the half,” Elliott said.
However, UNI defensive standout Omar Brown raced in from the left side of the Panther defense, blocked Laramie’s kick, scooped it and broke away for a 62-yard touchdown return.
“We were kicking into the wind. I think Mason’s launch-point trajectory was a little lower than what it typically would be,” Elliott said.
2. An untimely poor punt and bad penalty led to first-half mayhem
WIU’s Adam Fellner entered Saturday averaging nearly 42 yards per punt. Yet, the senior uncharacteristically shanked a 19-yard punt at the 1:22 mark of the second quarter.
The poor punt set Northern Iowa up at the WIU 27-yard line. An eight-yard UNI completion was turned into a first-and-goal situation thanks to an unsportsmanlike penalty when Western defensive back ShawnTrez Spates slammed Weston to the ground out of bounds.
Though WIU’s defense held the Panthers out of the end zone; Northern Iowa took the lead on Cook’s 28-yard field goal with 36 seconds left.
Western took three plays to move the ball into field goal range. However, Laramie’s kick was blocked and returned for the touchdown.
3. WIU had a better mix of the run and pass early
It’s no secret that Western has struggled to run the ball all spring. Injuries to opening game starter DeShon Gavin and others hasn’t helped.
Against Northern Iowa, the Leathernecks turned to true freshman Ludovick Choquette, listed at 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds. The Quebec native led WIU with a career-best 47 rushing yards Saturday; this allowed the Leathernecks to have a more balanced offense prior to falling behind and being forced to pass more.
“That’s been an emphasis all year,” Elliott said of the offense’s attempt to be more even. “Trying to find a formula to keep our defense off the field.”
Senior quarterback Connor Sampson said, “Once we get our run game going, it really sets the defense back . . . it just opens up a lot more for the pass.”
Choquette entered the game with just four carries on the spring; he had 12 Saturday. Choquette also tied Tony Tate for the team-high with eight catches.
In last weekend’s 26-18 loss at Illinois State, Sampson threw the ball 42 times. Against UNI, the senior attempted 58 passes.
News and notes
Sampson threw for a season-high 355 yards and two touchdowns, both to Daniel Bender . . . Sampson broke his own school record with 40 completions . . . Dennis Houston finished with game-high 99 yards receiving yards on five receptions . . . WIU’s defense held UNI to 3-for-12 on third down . . . Laramie, a junior transfer, is 5-for-7 on field goal attempts this season . . . Western ran 81 plays and amassed 413 yards.
WIU hosts Youngstown State April 3 in the Leathernecks’ home finale.