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Kevin Schnepf, Published October 05 2013

Schnepf: Chance to make Missouri Valley statement slips away from UNI

Fargo - Mark Farley, the king of Missouri Valley Football Conference coaches, had to have felt his Northern Iowa football team was about to regain the league’s crown it has worn so often.

His No. 4-ranked Panthers had a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter against No. 1-ranked North Dakota State, the program that has basically replaced Northern Iowa on the conference throne. Oh, how sweet a win would be in front of 18,840 rabid Fargodome fans.

But in a game that couldn’t have started any better, it couldn’t have ended any worse for Farley and his team.

His team, holding a 23-10 lead, could not score in the fourth quarter. His son, linebacker Jake Farley, who leads the team in tackles, broke his leg and was carted off the field with less than five minutes remaining. Two minutes later, Sam Ojuri rambled 19 yards for a touchdown to give the Bison their first lead of the game and their third straight win over Northern Iowa.

It had to have been a

nightmare for Mark Farley, who missed the postgame news conference to be with his son at a Fargo hospital.

“The guys knew right away what had happened,” associate head coach Bill Salmon said of Farley’s injury that occurred near midfield. “When that happened, it was a bad deal.”

Northern Iowa players were ready to shrug off their bad deal from last year, when they struggled to a 5-6 season and became a rare no-show for the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

This is not supposed to happen to a Farley-coached program, which has seven conference titles, seven playoff appearances, 10 top-25 rankings, three national semifinal appearances and one national title appearance.

But the Panthers came roaring into the Fargodome with an impressive 28-20 season-opening win at Iowa State, blowout wins over Drake and Northern Colorado and last week’s 41-6 trouncing of No. 9 McNeese State.

Saturday was the day Northern Iowa was going to reclaim its crown.

“This year, we got on such a good roll especially after where we came from last season,” said Northern Iowa defensive tackle Xavier Williams. “It feels good that we are so much better of a team, but at the same time, nobody wants to lose. If you take out the fact that they are the No. 1 team in the nation, just a loss … period … hurts.”

It especially hurts knowing they could have beaten a Bison team that was riddled with not only injuries, but mistakes. Two fumbled kickoff returns led to two field goals. Some missed tackles on David Johnson, perhaps one of the best running backs in the conference, led to an 85-yard touchdown run. Bison free safety Christian Dudzik dropped an interception at midfield that had all the makings of a touchdown. And Brock Jensen’s passing was not nearly as sharp as has been this season.

The only two times the Bison have lost during these last three seasons, Youngstown State and Indiana State cashed in on those kinds of mistakes. But Northern Iowa could not.

“Nothing breeds success like success,” Bison head coach Craig Bohl said, referring in part to his team’s game-winning drive, which was somewhat reminiscent of the one it engineered in the season-opening win at Kansas State.

The Bison took a big step in securing that coveted No. 1 seed for the playoffs. And we all know what that means – more noise in the Fargodome.

“I think I got rattled a couple times to be honest with you,” Salmon said. “It got loud in there.”

But it also got quiet, especially when Northern Iowa had a 23-10 lead going into the fourth quarter. Were things looking pretty good for the Panthers?

“Yeah … but we knew we couldn’t get complacent,” said Johnson, who ended up with 142 yards rushing. “We knew they are a good team at the end. We knew we had to play the whole game.”

So will there be another game between these two FCS heavyweights … perhaps in the playoffs?

“That would be nice, but I’m not sure about coming back up here,” Salmon said. “I would like to go a little farther south. That would be alright with me.”

Salmon, of course, was referring to Frisco, Texas, where the Bison are hoping to win a third straight national championship. It’s one that Northern Iowa so desperately covets.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com