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UNI's Grace Gets Sharp in Playoff Debut
CEDAR FALLS — The late-season shadows that surrounded Pat Grace retreated last weekend.
Northern Iowa’s junior quarterback looked sharper than he had since suffering a knee injury in the Panthers’ Oct. 18 victory over North Dakota State.
As he guided the Panthers to a playoff victory over Maine in the UNI-Dome, Grace rushed for 54 yards in 16 carries. Through the air, the Sioux City native hit 15 of 24 passes for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Grace hadn’t put up such numbers since Oct. 11, when he ran for 99 yards and threw for 239 in the victory over Illinois State.
The next weekend, the UNI quarterback took the shot to the knee that slowed him down. He missed a total of three regular season games and looked tentative at times when he did play.
In the opening round of the 2008 Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, Grace gave Mark Farley rays of encouragement.
“He was running, and when I say running, he was making the cuts on the turf you’d hope he would at full speed,” said UNI’s head football coach. “Up to that point, he was doing his slides and handing the ball off and doing what normal quarterbacks do.”
Farley laughed. Then he added, “Pat is a good football player because he is aggressive and when he’s aggressive, he takes our team to another level. That’s what we need.”
Grace is still wearing a knee brace, but Farley needs no reminder of the hazards inherent in his quarterback’s game.
“When you’re aggressive, there’s high risk, but also high reward,” said Farley. “Right now, Pat is playing very well.”
LIFT OFF: During UNI’s regular-season victory at Southern Utah, defensive tackle Everette Pedescleaux played on the Panthers’ short-yardage offense. Last Saturday, defensive end James Ruffin made an offensive appearance. Before suffering an injury, defensive back Craig James took a turn at wide receiver.
Farley pointed out that the post-season has arrived. There’s no margin for error, so he wants his best players on the field as much as possible, no matter who owns the football.
“Every Saturday, it’s a countdown,” said Farley. “We’re in the elimination round, and we’ll use everybody we can and go two ways if we have to to get things done. Our players are up to it.”
Actually, said Farley, the Panther defenders are way up for extra duty.
“You put those guys on offense and they think they’re at recess,” said the UNI coach, laughing. “So it gives a little spice to the whole thing, too. And it helps in general for our whole football team.”
TOMAN’S THE MAN: A year ago, New Hampshire quarterback R.J. Toman started two games when Ricky Santos went down with an injury. The Wildcats won both times, and Delaware was one of the victims.
“That was huge for R.J.,” said Wildcat wide receiver Mike Boyle of the Delaware win. “He came in and played with a lot of confidence.”
So, when New Hampshire head coach Sean McDonnell prepared Toman to take over the No. 1 spot fulltime in 2008, he turned to recent history.
“I told him he’s R.J. Toman and not to do anything different than he did in those two games,” said McDonnell.
The New Hampshire coach added, “In our system …. we have players who can run and catch. It’s your job to find those guys. We’re asking you to distribute the ball to different guys. If you make plays, the stats will come. R.J. did that.”
Grace gets sharp in playoff debut
By Jim Sullivan, The Waterloo- Cedar Falls Courier (IA)