UNI head coach Mark Farley highlighted the Panthers’ mid-season turnaround when reflecting on the season after their victory over the Coyotes, on Saturday.
“The story of this team was how a bunch of guys in the middle of a season with no open date turned around and reversed course to put us in this position today,” Farley said. “This is more of a drive-in thing than a playing deal. This is what we will remember for our seniors.”
However, the Panthers’ eventual surge proved not enough for a spot in the FCS playoffs after faltering at the start 0-3 with losses to Air Force, North Dakota and No. 2 Sacramento State.
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“We did our best and everything inside [the FCS Playoff Committee’s] Flatter said. “If we get a chance, we won’t disappoint… Yes, we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re brave now and we want to keep playing.”
To add insult to injury, UNI had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter against both South Dakota State and Sacramento State – the top two seeds in the playoffs.
As a conference, the Missouri Valley Football Conference qualified only three teams – South Dakota State, North Dakota State and North Dakota.
Three teams represent the fewest MVFC teams in the playoffs since 2018.
The playoff snub closes the book on the Panthers’ season with UNI posting a 6-5 record and finishing fifth in the MVFC standings.
The record, the disdain and the place in the standings failed to show how well the Panthers looked at the end of the season.
Through the 0-3 start, UNI’s defense struggled to make tackles and catch stops. In the last five games of the season, the Panthers completely changed course and stood in time after pit stop in time to put the offense in position to win games.
According to Flater, UNI’s defense turnaround was no fluke as the Panthers finished 5th overall and the MVFC game scoring record.
“We came together as one,” Flatter said. “We started meeting as a unit, making sure everyone was on the same page… We got all the new coaches on. This is tough… We all buckled up. We enjoyed the ride together and took the falls together.”
Considered the 13th-ranked offense in the nation, Theo Day’s play contributed to the Panthers’ success on offense. Day completed the season with 3,121 yards, 26 touchdowns, and a rating of 169.03—sixth best in the nation.
According to Farley, the success of the Panthers offense came not because of talent, but because of everyone’s confidence in the system created by joint offensive coordinators Buddy Reeder and Ryan Clanton.
“They trust the system,” Farley said. “When the system works, you throw to multiple people. When you only pitch to one guy all the time, you have talent. When you throw to multiple people, you have system. I think that’s what’s important on this team compared to last year’s team and teams of years past. We have A system that was created for this group of offensive players. It was built around them and by them. And then they bought into it.”