FOOTBALL: Tops defeat Northern Iowa

Josh Buckman

Freshman quarterback Justin Haddix passed for 226 yards on Saturday, but his feet also did some talking against Northern Iowa.

Tied 3-3 late in the third quarter and facing third-and-nine from his own 30-yard line, Haddix scrambled for a 13-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

On the following play, it was Haddix again who kept the ball rushing for 36 yards to the Panther 21. That set up senior Chris Miller’s 21-yard run with three minutes, 33 seconds left to give the Hilltoppers the lead for good. The touchdown was six of Western’s 21 unanswered second half points en route to a 24-3 win.

“He definitely played the best game I’ve seen him play,” coach David Elson said, “… and led, you know, as well as you would like him to see lead, and got things fired up and made plays.”

While the offense shined during the second half, it was the defense that led Western the whole game. It held the Gateway Conference’s leading rusher, Terrance Freeney, to just 25 yards.

Senior linebacker Erik Dandy led the team with 15 tackles, while senior linebacker Karl Maslowski had three tackles for losses and two sacks, costing UNI 33 yards.

“We focused the same way we did last week against Southern Illinois,” Maslowski said. “The only problem was last week we had a bad fourth quarter. They had two good running backs, and I think that focusing on tackling and getting to the ball is what we had to do.”

The defense set the tone on UNI’s opening drive when Dandy and Maslowski stopped Freeney on fourth-and-inches on the Western 34-yard line.

During Western’s first drive of the second half the team pushed the ball to the Panther 40-yard line. Then the Toppers tried a flea-kicker.

Haddix passed the ball to senior wide receiver Casey Rooney who then threw a lateral back to Haddix who ran it 31 yards in what looked to be a game-breaking drive. However, defensive tackle Justin Heins forced a fumble that UNI recovered on the 9-yard line.

But Western forced the Panthers to punt the ball back, which setup Miller’s go-ahead score.

“With that kind of momentum we knew we could make plays like that,” Rooney said. “So we just kept the same mindset that we can come out the next series and make the same type of plays.”

Later, Haddix found Rooney again for a 38-yard strike. It was the key play in the drive, which ended with Haddix scoring a four-yard touchdown run for a 24-3 lead.

The Toppers showed that they can put a team away late in the game. They also showed they can defeat a team ranked in the top 10, something they didn’t do against the Salukis.

Next week, Western (8-3, 4-2 Gateway) and its playoff chances go on the road for its final regular season game against Youngstown State (5-6, 2-4).

“We’re pretty much just going to tell ourselves that if we win this last game we’re going to make the playoffs,” Rooney said. “And we know we’ll be 8-3 and we got a weak schedule, but we’re just going to have the mindset that if we win this last game we’ll make the playoffs, and then we’ll be good to go.”

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