Preview: Redbirds @ Panthers

Alex Allen (89) runs with the football during UNI’s 20-14 victory over Indiana State on Saturday.

BEN LAHART , Sports Writer

The UNI football team is looking for a homecoming game victory this weekend against the Illinois State Redbirds. The Panthers are coming off two straight wins, including their first home win of the season last week against Indiana State where they won 20-14. UNI and Illinois State currently sit in the middle of the conference rankings at fifth and sixth respectively.

It took an overtime period to decide the victor of this matchup last season with Illinois State emerging victorious 17-10. The UNI defense played very well a year ago, only allowing 164 yards of offense. Despite the score, the offense also performed well, putting up over 300 yards. However, penalties and a crucial 44-yard interception return for a touchdown ultimately decided the outcome. UNI did not get on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter when they scored a quick 10 points to tie and force overtime. It was in overtime that the Illinois State offense found the endzone for the first time. A failed fourth down on the next drive ended the game and sealed the Redbird victory.

Theo Day continued his excellent 2022 campaign last week with 180 passing yards and a passing touchdown, as well as another touchdown on the ground. He is still ranked in the top 10 in the FCS in passing yards with just over 1300 yards. Day ranks second in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in passing yards and third in passing touchdowns. He scored his 10th total touchdown of the year last week with an 18-yard pass to Alex Allen in the third quarter. 

UNI’s stellar offense took a slight step back in this game as they only totaled 321 yards after having reached the 400 yard mark in each of the previous four games. The running back duo of Dom Williams and Vance McShane combined for 121 rushing yards on 21 attempts. Tight end Allen led the team in receptions, four, and receiving yards, 61, while hauling in a touchdown as well. On the other side of the ball, defensive back Benny Sapp III tallied his second interception of the season last week in a play that sealed UNI’s win, while linebacker Spencer Culliver wrapped up double digit tackles for the third time this season.

Illinois State is coming off their second loss of the season after a close game with Southern Illinois, a game they lost 19-14. The Redbirds are led by former Minnesota Golden Gophers Zack and Brock Annexstad. Zack, a dual threat quarterback, saw season highs in passing yards, touchdowns, rushing attempts and yards in last week’s loss. One of his favorite receivers is his brother Brock, who also saw season highs last week as he led the Redbirds in receiving with 74 yards. The defense for the Redbirds is led by senior linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh who is coming off a season high of 14 tackles last week. He also ranks seventh in the FCS in sacks with six on the season.

Despite the loss last season, UNI is still 3-1 in the last four contests against Illinois State and will look to make that 4-1 this Saturday. This is a great opportunity for the Panthers to pick up their third straight win and even out their season record in front of a packed UNI-Dome crowd. Kickoff will be at 4 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 8. The game can also be streamed on ESPN+.