Panthers fall to Redbirds, 23-21

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  • Sergio Morancy (82) runs towards the end zone, completing a 53-yard touchdown reception during UNI’s 23-21 loss to Illinois State on Saturday.

  • Vance McShane (20) runs with the football during UNI’s loss to Illinois State. McShane ran the ball 13 times for 90 yards on Saturday.

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DREW HILL, Opinion Columnist

UNI hosted the Illinois State Redbirds for UNI’s 2022 homecoming game this past Saturday. This was their second consecutive home game in a four-game stretch. They won the previous week against Indiana State, 20-14, to improve to 2-3 on the season, having won two in a row. Illinois State came into the game at 2-2, having lost their previous game to Southern Illinois, 19-14. Illinois State won last year’s meeting between the two teams, 17-10 in overtime, but UNI had won the previous three games.

The game started off with a quick three-and-out for UNI, who punted the ball to Illinois State. The Redbirds put together a time-consuming drive, going all the way to the end zone. This gave the Redbirds a 7-0 lead. The Panthers wasted no time, as after a few short gains, Theo Day found Sergio Morancy, who took the ball in for six on a 53-yard pass, tying the score at 7-7. 

Illinois State once again drove down the field on the ensuing possession, highlighted by a 26-yard pass that got the Redbirds down to the UNI 16-yard line. However, the Panther defense held strong, forcing three straight incompletions to limit Illinois State to a field goal. Illinois State took a 10-7 lead. UNI drained the rest of the first quarter. Despite an early first down, they were forced into a punting situation, giving the ball to Illinois State near the beginning of the second quarter.

Illinois State once again went on a long drive. It was their longest of the first half at six minutes and 40 seconds. They ended up scoring on a run play to take a 17-7 lead. UNI had one more scoring drive before the end of the half. Highlighted by a 27-yard pass from Day to Sam Schnee and a 32-yard run for Dom Williams, UNI got all the way down to the 2-yard line of Illinois State, where Williams punched in a short run to cut the lead to three at 17-14. Illinois State drained the rest of the first half, kicking a 25-yard field goal at the end to take a 20-14 lead into the break.

UNI struggled to limit Illinois State’s offense in the first half, as they did not force a single punt or turnover. That changed in the second half. Illinois State did score a field goal on their first drive of the second half to make the score 23-14, but that was the last score of the game for the Redbirds.

UNI’s first drive of the third quarter looked promising. However, after getting to the Illinois State 30-yard line, Theo Day was sacked and fumbled the football. Illinois State recovered it at the Redbird 43-yard line. The UNI defense stepped up and forced the first three-and-out of the evening, forcing Illinois State to punt the football back to UNI.

The Panthers put together a long drive that took 6:18 off the clock and drained through the third quarter and into the fourth. It was highlighted by a 23-yard pass to Schnee and a 23-yard run from Vance McShane. Schnee finished it off with a short touchdown run to cut the lead to two at 23-21 with 12:50 to go.

Holding onto a two point lead with a long way to go in the final quarter, Illinois State meticulously went on their longest drive of the game, taking 7:24 off the clock. They got all the way down to the UNI 12-yard line, but missed a field goal that would have extended the lead to five. UNI got the ball at their own 20-yard line with 5:26 to go in the game. They did not have any huge gains, as the longest was 12 yards, but moved the ball methodically. However, after a false start penalty and only seven yards gained on the ensuing downs, the Panthers faced a fourth and eight from the Illinois State 39-yard line. A pass to Schnee went incomplete, and Illinois State took over.

However, despite there only being 1:31 left in the game, UNI managed to force a three-and-out. Illinois State only took 21 seconds off the clock and had to punt it back to UNI. UNI had time for one last drive. Day found Williams for a 28-yard gain on the first play, getting UNI up to their own 47-yard line. Day rushed for 10 more yards on two plays and threw three incompletions, leaving UNI with time left for only one more shot at winning the game. Unfortunately, Illinois State got through for a sack, and the game ended with Illinois State winning 23-21.

With the loss, UNI falls to 2-4 on the season, while Illinois State improves to 3-2. Day finished with 212 passing yards and a passing touchdown. McShane led the rushing attack with 90 yards. Schnee led the receivers with 75 yards on five receptions. UNI’s next game is at home against Utah Tech on Saturday, Oct. 15.