Youngstown State has a 3-4 record playing Northern Iowa in the UNIDome.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Coach Jon Heacock will make his first road trip as coach of Youngstown State's football team Saturday, and it's to a place that not many teams enjoy going.
The Penguins (3-0, 1-0 Gateway Conference), ranked No. 2 in I-AA, face Northern Iowa (2-1, 0-0) in the UNIDome at 5:05 p.m. in Cedar Falls.
The Panthers are 125-31-1 at the UNIDome since it opened in 1976. Youngstown State is 3-4 there, winning 29-20 in 1999.
Northern Iowa is led by a new coach, but he's a familiar face in the Cedar Falls area. Mark Farley played at UNI from 1982-86 and was an assistant coach there from 1986-1997. The last three seasons he was an assistant at Kansas.
Challenge: Despite UNI's history of success at the dome, Farley said the Panthers will have their hands full on Saturday.
"Youngstown State is a good football team," Farley said. "What they did to Western Illinois last week [41-7] was almost unbelievable."
Last week, the Panthers also turned in an impressive win, defeating I-A Ball State 42-39 on a 33-yard field goal by junior Mackenzie Hoambrecker as time expired.
"We've got to get our feet back on the ground immediately," said Farley. "Our number one focus from day one was the conference. It wasn't Iowa State [which beat UNI 45-0)] it wasn't a I-A win, it was the conference."
Farley said he is counting on UNI's home-field advantage.
"The dome is an advantage," he said. "The dome is a seven-point advantage without a person in the stands because of what it is and what it stands for. We'll need all the help we can get this week because Youngstown is a great team.
"Youngstown is not going to try and fool you, they're just going to try to come out and beat you," he added. "Jeff Ryan at quarterback brings an attitude that they can't be beat. He makes plays when they need them and P.J. Mays is the same type of player. That's why they're ranked because they have players who step up."
Besides Hoambrecker, who was a second-team All-Conference selection a year ago, the Panthers have many offensive weapons.
Freshman red-shirt quarterback Tom Petrie passed for 213 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State.
Alternation: At running back, the Panthers will alternate sophomore Richard Carter, who started last year, and junior Adam Benge, who was the starter in 1999 but sat out last season for personal reasons.
Senior wide receiver Jake Soliday is a candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in I-AA. In three games he has 12 receptions, averaging over 20 yards per catch, and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Northern Iowa has eight returning starters, led by senior linebacker Adam Vogt, who was honorable mention All-Conference last year despite missing the last four games with a knee injury.
Sophomore linebacker Casey Tierney, suffered a concussion at Ball State and is questionable for Saturday.