The Penguins will have their hands full with No. 14 Northern Iowa.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley has had his way with Youngstown State over the past five seasons.
Farley has never lost to the Penguins in his five years with the Panthers, who provide the opposition for Saturday's key Gateway Conference game at Stambaugh Stadium. Kickoff for the homecoming contest is scheduled for 4:07 p.m.
Northern Iowa (4-2, 2-0 Gateway) is ranked No. 14 in this week's I-AA poll. YSU (6-1, 3-0) is No. 5. The Penguins have won four straight games overall and their last 11 consecutive games at Stambaugh Stadium. The last opponent to win at the Ice Castle was Northern Iowa, 22-20, in October 2004, on a field goal as time expired.
The Panthers, who a year ago reached the Division I-AA national championship game, started the season slowly.
They beat Drake 48-7 in their opener, but then dropped a 35-31 decision to Div. II North Dakota, but since that time the Panthers have won three of four games, the only blemish a 28-27 defeat to Iowa State. UNI has beaten league opponents Missouri State (38-7) and Indiana State (34-14).
"Breaks play a big role in a team's march to a Gateway or a national championships," Farley said. "We've been on both sides of them.
"Last time we played in Youngstown we got the break and capitalized on it for the win," he said.
"This is a better Youngstown team than we've seen in the last few years, but we feel that we're a pretty good team also," he added.
The Panthers have been impressive on offense, averaging 419 yards per game with a balanced attack. They average 247.8 yards per game on the ground and 171.8 through the air.
Junior quarterback Eric Sanders (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) has passed for 943 yards and seven touchdowns, and added another 124 yards rushing and one TD. A year ago he came off the injury list to spark the Panthers to a 21-7 victory in the UNI-Dome against YSU.
Sanders has good support in the running game, with three backs averaging nearly 5 yards per carry.
Leading the way is sophomore Corey Lewis (6-0, 187) with 499 yards and six touchdowns, while junior Whitney Lewis (6-1, 225) has 345 yards and three scores and junior Darian Williams (6-3, 190) has 303 yards and three TDs.
The Panthers' top receiver is senior James Lindgren (6-0, 196) with 21 catches for 271 yards and five touchdowns, while sophomore Johnny Gray (5-9, 185) has 21 catches for 251 yards and one touchdown.
Defensively, the Panthers have been holding opponents to just 112 yards rushing and 194.8 yards passing per game. Leading the team is senior linebacker Dave Schratz (6-0, 229) with 33 tackles, including three for losses, while junior linebacker Brannon Carter (6-3, 219) has three interceptions and junior safety Chris Parsons (6-1, 183) has two.
UNI also has one of the better kickers in the Gateway, senior Brian Wingert (6-1, 183), who last week became the school's all-time scoring leader with 310 career points.