Leathernecks cruise past UNI Panthers

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Becca Langys/ Photo Editor

Max Norris rushes the ball through defense.

Christopher Bean, Courier Staff

Macomb, Ill. — The 3-4 (2-2) Western Illinois Leathernecks took the 4-3 University of Northern Iowa Panthers (3-1). Both teams came into the game with arguably their best games of the year. The Leathernecks defeated Missouri State 31-14 on the road after almost gaining 600 yards on offense. The Panthers upset South Dakota State the No. 9 team in the country, 24-9. That meant something had to give, and Western prevailed again as they played their most complete game in all three facets of the game in dominating 37-17 to improve to 4-4 overall. They are now tied in second in the Missouri Valley Conference with South Dakota State.

It wasn’t the best start for the Leathernecks as they started with the ball and went three-and-out thanks to two flags stalling the drive. The first drive for UNI was led by their two-senior leaders: quarterback Eli Dunne and runningback Marcus Weymiller. They combined for 36 of their 56 yards. Western held them in the red zone, and Austin Errthum missed a 24-yard chip shot. It didn’t matter as they got the ball right back two plays later when Steve McShane fumbled the ball. UNI took over at Western’s 31, and six plays later Errthum redeemed himself with a 32-yard field goal. Western came back with a nine play 75-yard drive. It was set up on the last play of the first quarter when Sean McGurie found Clint Ratkovich for 30 yards.

Max Norris ran it in from the one-yard line in the first play of the second quarter to give Western their first lead, 7-3. The Panthers answered with their best drive of the game to put them up 10-7 with 12:35 to go in the half. That didn’t faze Western’s offense at all as they answered two plays later when McGurie found Isiah Lesure wide open for a 69-yard touchdown, putting Western back on top 14-10. That was the first of two touchdowns for the senior wide receiver. Western’s D responded, forcing their first three-and-out of the game. The offense put a nice drive together but turned it over on downs, failing to convert on fourth down inside the Panthers ten. But on the very next play, Pete Swenson striped sacked Dunne, and the Panthers recovered it in the end zone giving Western the safety putting them up six. Western would go into half with a 16-10 lead, but not before they forced another huge turnover when Xavier Rowe intercepted the ball at Western’s four.

The Leathernecks didn’t let up as they were all gas and no breaks in the second half. Dunne and the Panthers had a great drive going as they got as close to the six-yard line. But on the 12th play of the drive Riggs Baxter came up with the huge sack forcing Dunne to fumble the ball, and Will LaCale London fell on the ball to give Western their third turnover of the day. Western couldn’t capitalized, but the defense came up clutch again thanks to Xavier Rowe’s second interception of the day. That was Western’s fourth and final turnover created by the defense, but that’s all they needed as Western scored three touchdown’s in-a-row to give them a 37-10 lead. UNI would score with 1:52 left in the game, but they needed a 27-point scoring play, but there is no such thing as that in the game of football. Western would run out the clock in their very impressive 37-17 win over a hot Panthers team.

A big story in this weekend’s game was the McShane brothers going head-to-head. Obviously, starting senior running back Steve McShane is outstanding for the Leathernecks, and he was going up against his younger brother, freshman wide receiver Deion McShane. Not only did older brother get the win but he also had a better day in terms of stats. Deion only got the ball twice, totaling 11 yards. Steve only had 44 rushing yards, but also had a touchdown to help the Leathernecks win.

“It takes everybody involved. I’m very proud of my staff for a very good gameplan, and obviously, our boys executed today,” said head coach Jared Elliot after his team’s win.

After a 2-4 start to Western’s season they have turned it around with their two best performances of the year to keep their playoff hope alive what didn’t seem possible after their lost to NDSU. Western does not have an opponent left on their schedule that is over .500. They will travel to Carbondale, Ill. to take on Southern Illinois University this Saturday as they continue their road to the playoffs.