Stakes similar to last year, scenery changed

By Gus Bode

It’s a new year and a new setting, but all things considered, not much has changed since Nov. 15, 2003, the last time Northern Iowa and SIU squared off.

The Panthers return 15 starters – the Salukis 16.

Both coaches and systems are intact, and each has aspirations of a Gateway Conference crown.


Saturday afternoon’s 1:30 p.m. homecoming kickoff, even though it’s the conference opener, has Gateway implications with SIU (2-1) predicted to finish first and UNI (1-2) second in preseason polls.

Last year’s regular season finale had more immediate implications, with Northern Iowa’s 43-40 victory at the UNI Dome forcing a share of the Gateway championship with the previously undefeated Salukis.

“I think it’s pretty much the same match-up,” Kill said. “They’ve got most of their players back and we’ve got a lot of our players back. It’s a tremendous college football match-up. It could go either way.”

Kill may be a bit reserved in his assessment if you were to ask UNI head coach Mark Farley. Sure, the Panthers came out on top in last year’s back-and-forth battle, but Farley concedes that SIU may have filled the holes better in the offseason.

“They definitely have the edge all the way around when you’re looking at the home field and the magnitude of the game and then, of course, the players that they picked up. They are a tremendous football team right now,” Farley said. “I think they are better at this point than they were at the end of last season.

“I think last year they were building their team as the season went on and gaining confidence. This year they entered the season with a lot of confidence.”

To prove they are better, the Salukis will have to do what they couldn’t last year – stop UNI quarterback Tom Petrie. The senior signal caller returns most of his weapons, including running backs Terrence Freeney and Richard Carter, from last season’s team that racked up more than 5,000 yards of offense.


The Panthers gained most of their yards on the ground last season, but they attacked the Salukis mostly through the air. Petrie piled up 422 yards on 28-of-40 passing and three touchdowns in bringing back the Panthers from a 28-7 halftime deficit.

“I’m not sure what to expect from them,” senior free safety Alexis Moreland said. “They have two great running backs and they have the whole system down pat so they can come in and try anything. We just have to prepare for everything they have.”

Wide receiver threats Eddie Galles, who caught 16 passes for 251 yards last year against SIU, and Marlus Mays, who caught the game-winner last year in the final minute, have graduated. But Petrie still has those eight other returning starters to fall back on and a system designed to protect the quarterback.

Last year the Salukis registered zero sacks and relatively few hurries on Petrie.

“I don’t know if you can sack him because he is so deep in the pocket,” Kill said. “He gets out there in shotgun and then takes five more steps back. I think you need to put pressure on him and make him rush his throws and mix your coverages up and keep him off balance.”

Moreland has another explanation for the Salukis inability to put pressure on Petrie last season, especially as the game wound down.

“I don’t think it was pressure as much as in the second half. I don’t think we came out and played as hard,” Moreland said. “We didn’t play with that emotion or that fire we did with the first half. Even if we don’t get a pass rush, if everyone does what they’re supposed to do, we should have a good game.”

In addition to the Salukis’ new stable of running backs, the Panthers will also have to deal with a familiar face at quarterback. Preseason all-conference junior Joel Sambursky passed for a career-high 258 yards and three touchdowns at the UNI Dome last year. In the second quarter alone Sambursky was 10-of-10 for 149 yards and two touchdowns.

Sambursky said the UNI defense, which lost four of six starters, looks a little bit quicker this year on film, but he has confidence the Salukis will be able to move the ball as efficiently as last year when they posted 514 yards of total offense against the Panthers.

“We always anticipate doing well on offense and as a team regardless of who [the other team] lost last year,” Sambursky said. “I think we have a lot of confidence this year, but we also realize that we can get beat on any given week. When you win 10 straight games, that feeling of failure, you start to lose it a little bit.

“They are a team that can definitely beat us, so we’ve got to do everything we can to win this game.”