CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Ninth-ranked Northern Iowa stated its case Saturday.
The Panthers (8-4 overall, 6-2 in Missouri Valley Football Conference) dominated in every phase in a 38-7 victory over Western Illinois Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
UNI will now wait and see whether its resume will be enough to earn them a first-round bye in the 24-team FCS playoff field.
"Absolutely I believe we are a playoff seed," senior running back Trevor Allen said. "We showed that tonight. I guarantee you no one else in the playoffs is looking at us and saying, 'hey, I want to play UNI.'"
"Seed or not, we are team that is hot right now," senior offensive guard Jackson Scott-Brown added. "I think this is one heck of a team we got right now."
The Panthers also got a lot of help Saturday to plead their case for a first-round bye. Early in the day, Youngstown State knocked off seventh-ranked Illinois State, 21-7. Then minutes after UNI's win, South Dakota upset South Dakota Sate, 24-21, with those two losses meaning UNI will finish second by itself in the MVFC.
"That is for somebody else to decide," Panther head coach Mark Farley said at first of the playoff seed question. "What I see is this. This game was big because we needed to win in a way that our defense was great and our offense was good. We did that."
As clarity set in, Farley was clear in the message he wanted to convey to the playoff committee.
"Every loss we had were Top 10 teams on the road," Farley added. "They weren't just Top 10 teams. They were Top 10 teams on the road and the other was Iowa State ... all those games were on the road and then we got Illinois State on the road.
"So, yes, I think we are a top-eight seed. I don't think there is any question."
The Panthers three losses have come to No. 1 North Dakota State, No. 5 South Dakota State and No. 6 Weber State, and the loss to ISU was in triple overtime. The FCS playoff field will be announced at 11:30 a.m. today on ESPNU.
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UNI did all the right things in making sure it finished undefeated (6-0) at home for the first time since 2011.
Allen rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns, as UNI rushed for a season-best 201 yards and the Panther defense held the Leathernecks (1-11, 1-7) to just 240 yards, including just 84 on the ground, the seventh opponent UNI has held to under 100 rushing yards.
"I think we did a really good job today," Scott-Brown said. "I think we did a really good job collectively."
UNI lead 17-7 at halftime, and put the game away quickly in the second half. Chris Kolarevic returned an interception 28 yards for a touchdown just 2 minutes and 15 seconds into the third quarter.
Then midway through the third, the Panthers stopped WIU short on a fake punt and on the next play, Will McElvain hit Jaylin James for a 36-yard score as James went up between two Leatherneck defenders to haul in the touchdown pass. Allen put the final nail in the coffin on a 2-yard scoring run with 5:20 left in the fourth finishing off a 15-play, 86-yard drive that consumed 9 minutes and 40 seconds.
"I was pleased because of how we came out and the intensity of play," Farley said. "The offense scored, I believe, on their first three possessions. Defense we allowed the first drive, but after that settled in ... calmed down and played good defense.
The Panthers led from start.
Omar Brown recovered a fumble on Western's opening possession, and the Panthers proceeded to march down the field on a 15-play, 61-yard drive that ate up 7:05 of the first quarter clock as Allen scored on a 1-yard run for a 7-0 lead. The Leathernecks tied it with their own long drive, 13-plays, 68-yards, as Max Norris hauled in a four-yard shuffle pass from Connor Sampson with 1:47 left in the first.
The Panthers took the lead for good on a 25-yard Matthew Cook field goal, and Cook's former high school teammate Logan Wolf scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass from McElvain with 4:15 to go until halftime.
Wolf, playing in his second game, finished with three catches for 82 yards, including a huge 16-yard reception on a 4th-and-9 play from the Leatherneck 34 that helped lead to Cook's field goal.
"Wolf was a huge contributor," Farley said. "When we went for it on fourth down, at that time, it was a big part of the game. it wasn't a perfect throw, it was a good throw, but Wolf made a great catch. Later on we were in a tough situation with a penalty and that is when we got the big play (61-yard touchdown).
"Those two plays alone stand out to me in this game much like the Kolarevic intercept for a touchdown. Those were three staples that kind of swung this game in our favor."