TERRE HAUTE —
Everyone knows life is unfair … you just hate it when life proves it.
So it went for Indiana State’s football team on Saturday as it faced perennial power Northern Iowa.
It was the biggest game for the ISU program in 14 years. First place was on the line. The city and ISU campus seemed somewhat energized — attendance was 6,038, it should have been higher, but fans have been showing up in much greater numbers since mid-October. Certainly there was far more energy in the stadium than the crushing apathy normally seen at November ISU home games.
With all of this in ISU’s corner, disaster struck.
After having been healthy all season, almost freakishly so, the Sycamores lost three of its four starting linebackers in the span of a week. Ryan Roberts (knee), Santino Davis (ankle) and Aaron Archie (shoulder) were all unavailable to play against a UNI running attack that leads the conference.
UNI won 30-20. UNI ran 57 times for 340 yards, well over its season average for running attempts per game. The injuries unquestionably hurt the Sycamores.
Yet with two minutes to go, the game was still in doubt. UNI led 23-20 and was in the midst of a make-or-break scoring drive.
ISU held it together because it fought hard. ISU’s depleted defense bent, but failed to break on several occasions. In the first half, ISU kept UNI from scoring a touchdown on three straight Panther sorties into the red zone, forcing a turnover on the last of those series which eventually led to an ISU touchdown.
Jacolby Washington, who moved back to linebacker from defensive end, played an inspired game with 17 tackles and a sack. Dillon Painter, who replaced Roberts, had 10 tackles.
The Sycamores really had no business being within range of the lead that late in the game given how UNI was moving the ball … yet they were. And it was a compliment to the confidence the Sycamores have gained as they’ve dramatically improved this season.
“We didn’t get it done, but we had our chances … and that’s better [than it has been]. I’m highly disappointed we didn’t win. We’re learn from it,” Miles said.
The rest of the league has learned. UNI, historically the best team in the MVFC by a wide margin, has traditionally blasted ISU at every opportunity — Saturday’s victory improved the Panthers’ record in the series to 23-4.
Yet even though UNI led 23-20 late, the Panthers knew darn well that if they didn’t get a touchdown on their final series, they were in trouble given ISU’s offensive capabilities.
“Every series is a big series. Anything can happen with the quarterback [Ronnie Fouch] that Indiana State has. They can score at any given moment. Their offense is very powerful and they can score at will. We had to take every opportunity we had to stop them and get our offense on the field to run down the clock,” UNI linebacker Jamar Thompson said.
UNI coach Mark Farley has personally witnessed nearly all of the ISU-UNI “battles” over the years, though “slaughters” might be a more accurate way to put it as Saturday’s game was only the ninth in the 27-game series decided by 10 points or less.
Farley played for UNI starting in 1982 and was a graduate assistant and assistant coach at UNI after that. The only gap came when he was an assistant coach under then-Kansas coach and current Missouri State coach Terry Allen from 1997-2000, before he returned to the Panthers as the head coach.
“We treated this game just like a championship game. We knew how big this game was. We knew the attitude of the Indiana State football team and we knew we were in for a 1-2 battle. There’s no question about that,” Farley said.
“We talked and worked just like if we were getting ready for Southern Illinois or some other top team in the league. I can’t say we’ve done that in years’ past, we just wanted to come here and play good and make sure we got the win. In this case, we had to get in the minds of our players and get them to play their tails off,” Farley added.
UNI did, but so did ISU. And both the teams and fans got a game that was worthy of the Fight To First mantra ISU self-proclaimed it to be going into the game.
It was disappointing to see some of the ISU faithful depart before the game ended. Those who stayed gave the Sycamores a standing ovation they richly deserve for making such a great and unexpected leap forward this season.
Fate might have tied one hand tied behind ISU’s back against UNI on Saturday, but they fought, and they’ll live to fight again. The future is bright for Sycamore football.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Please check out Golden’s Down In The Valley blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.