FOOTBALL: Cardinals taking next level in Panthers’ dome
Lamar (7-4) at Northern Iowa (6-5)
• NCAA Division I first round; 4 p.m. Saturday, UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls, Iowa; ESPN3/KLVI-AM 560
The last time Lamar played 12 games in a season, the Cardinals went 8-4.
Today, Lamar (7-4) will have played a dozen for the first time since 2014, and game No. 12 could mean so much more than just matching the school record for wins in a season.
Saturday’s game in the NCAA Division I playoffs, commonly known as the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, will be the first in Lamar history.
“It’s a system in place, and we had to trust it,” second-year Lamar coach Mike Schultz said, his team 2-9 a year ago. “That system didn’t happen overnight. This system has happened through many, many years of having this playoff system and having to choose teams where, when you read about them and research them you see where they went to eight teams to 16 teams to 24 teams. Each one, I’m sure they had to make adjustments in how to select teams.”
Northern Iowa, which has been as far as the national championship game in 2005 (lost to Appalachian State), is playing in the tournament for the 20th time.
But the Cardinals are one of the hottest teams in the FCS, having won six straight and beaten three teams that were ranked at the time of the game. North Dakota State (17), Princeton (10), Kennesaw State (10) and the University of San Diego (8) have won more, but Weber State (6) and Hampton (6) have tied Lamar.
“Fortunately, the last six games I think worked in our favor,” Schultz said. “We beat three top-25 teams and maybe a fourth if you want to count Incarnate Word (which was not ranked at the time of Lamar’s Oct. 13 win). They are in the top 25. After they got beat by us, they had an incredible year, and they’re in the playoffs, too.”
The winner of Lamar at UNI will visit California-Davis, the sixth overall seed in the playoffs, next Saturday.
ABOUT NORTHERN IOWA
The Panthers (6-5) were not among the last three teams to make the playoffs, according to the NCAA playoff selection committee, but they likely would have missed football’s Big Dance if they didn’t take care of business against Missouri State (37-0 win) last Saturday. UNI scored a pair of wins over ranked teams this year, 24-9 over then-No. 2 South Dakota State and 26-16 over then-No. 13 Illinois State.
East Tennessee State (8-3), Incarnate Word (6-4) and Lamar were the last three to make the playoffs.
Former NFL defensive lineman Bryce Paup, who played at UNI in the late 1980s, is defensive line coach for the Panthers. Paup was picked for the Pro Bowl four times, playing with the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
A deep backfield helped Lamar lead the Southland Conference in rushing at 250.3 yards per game, almost twice that of UNI’s average (127.7). The Panthers could have a busy day trying to slow down either Darrel Colbert Jr. or Jordan Hoy at quarterback, but expect sophomore Myles Wanza and A.J. Walker to continue to have their carries.
UNI has a 217.7-182.5 advantage in passing yards per game. Defensively, UNI ranks tied for fifth nationally in defensive touchdowns with five, but Lamar is tied for eighth with 16 interceptions on the season (UNI has 15).
Both Lamar and UNI will be pretty comfortable playing in Cedar Falls today. The Panthers play in the UNI-Dome, a 16,324-seat stadium, and neither team will have to brave temperatures up to 39 degrees with a low of 26, according to Weather.com. (Lamar will return home immediately after the game, beating the snow that is forecast to fall Sunday.)
A DATE IN HISTORY
Aside from all the historical significances of Saturday’s game, Nov. 24 is also the latest Lamar has played a football game since 1981, when it lost to Southern Mississippi 45-14 on Nov. 28. Lamar is 2-0 on Nov. 24 all-time.
Lamar fans can gather at Buffalo Wild Wings on Dowlen Road to watch the ESPN3 broadcast of the game. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. Saturday.
I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews
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