|« Georgia Southern Looks for Repeat of Upset||Brusko Has Become Jack of All Trades for Maine »|
Panthers Face Bison Team on the Ropes
Cedar Falls, Ia. — The luster has faded, but intrigue remains.
Coming into the season, North Dakota State stood as the Missouri Valley Football Conference favorite, with Northern Iowa tabbed No. 2.
But when the teams meet today at 4:05 p.m. in the UNI-Dome, their respective hopes reside in different realms.
The No. 20 Bison (3-3, 1-2 Valley) are coming off their first home loss since 2005 - a 27-22 setback to Western Illinois - and are likely one loss away from playoff elimination.
The No. 6 Panthers (4-2, 2-1) are tied for first in the conference, but still in search of their best four-quarter effort.
“We knew each week was going to be a battle,” said Northern Iowa linebacker Josh Mahoney, who recorded 16 tackles in last week’s win over Illinois State. “We know what kind of football team they’re going to bring in here.”
Proud. Big. Battered.
North Dakota State’s offensive line is littered with injuries and breaking in new quarterback Nick Mertens has been a mercurial experience played out amid high expectations.
“Obviously (being picked No. 1 in the Valley) was a nice accolade, but as a weathered football coach, I didn’t put a lot of stock in it,” said Bison coach Craig Bohl, whose team has not lost a game by more than a touchdown this season.
The Panthers trudged through the then-Gateway Conference unscathed last season and most coaches see the propsect of a team running the table now - with North Dakota State and South Dakota State in the fold - as unlikely.
“It’s completely nuts,” Illinois State coach Denver Johnson said of the league’s weekly grind after last week’s loss.
But facts are facts and numbers don’t lie - much.
A victory today for the Panthers, who have not lost a conference game at home since 2006, would beef up their postseason resume entering a stretch in which three of their remaining four Valley games are on the road.
“We’re in the mindset where we need to be right now,” said Northern Iowa quarterback Pat Grace.
So, Bohl believes, are the Bison, despite their precarious position.
“Playing on the road adds another amount of difficulty, but within that challenge lies a great opportunity,” he said.
Panthers face Bison team on the ropes
By Rob Gray, The Des Moines Register