Sanders leads Panthers into battle

By Gus Bode

SIU football coach Jerry Kill sees a little bit of former Saluki quarterback Joel Sambursky in this week’s opponent.

Payton Award nominee Eric Sanders will lead his No. 2 Northern Iowa Panthers Saturday in their bid to stay undefeated as they host the No. 7 Salukis (6-0, 2-0 Gateway).

Sanders, who leads the Gateway in passing yards per game, has the ability to vacate the pocket and make plays – not unlike SIU’s former signal-caller, Kill said.


“He’s just got ways to get the ball flicked out,” Kill said. “He’s the man, and we know that we’ve got to make him miss a few times, and that’s not easy.”

Northern Iowa (5-0, 1-0) is coming off a bye week, but in its last game on Sept. 29, Sanders left with an injury. Despite the injury, Sanders returned to manage a game-winning drive and lead the Panthers to a 23-13 win against Illinois State.

“That’s the drive of Eric, but that’s the reason he’s the player that he is as well,” Panthers coach Mike Farley said.

Sanders threw the winning touchdown against Illinois State when he rolled out of the pocket and found senior receiver Terrell Allen open for a five-yard strike.

This season, Sanders has completed 76.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 1,138 yards and two touchdowns. He has also rushed for 78 yards and three scores.

Northern Iowa’s offense is also driven by junior running back Corey Lewis – the Panthers’ leader in rushing and receiving yards.

Lewis has racked up 565 yards on the ground this season at 6.2 yards per carry, scoring five touchdowns in as many games.


The 6-foot, 197-pound running back has added to the production with 21 receptions for a team-high 307 receiving yards.

Farley said Lewis is an intelligent person who can also play through pain.

“He’s been hurt a little bit here as we’ve gone through the season, and he’s always been productive,” Farley said.

Farley said he didn’t even want to consider what the team would do if the injuries to Lewis and Sanders worsened and they were unable to play.

“I don’t even want to go there,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have another player step in and become a name for himself.”

Northern Iowa’s defense, though, has received a boost this season from a newcomer.

Junior linebacker De’Veon Harris transferred to Northern Iowa after spending two years at North Iowa Area Community College, where he led his team in tackles and forced fumbles in 2006.

This season, Harris is tied for the Panthers lead in tackles with 34. Harris has also recorded a two sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and a team-high 4.5 tackles for loss.

Farley said he has noticed improvement in Harris’ game each week.

“He’s definitely developed, and as we’ve gone through the season, he picks up more and more each game,” Farley said.

Daily Egyptian writer Scott Mieszala can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 256 or [email protected].