CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — Illinois State football coach Brock Spack got no kick out of kickoffs Saturday at the UNI-Dome.
Pivotal plays on both Redbird kickoffs and kickoff returns played a key role in Northern Iowa’s 42-14 victory over ISU.
The Redbirds chose to loft high and relatively short kickoffs with the goal of surrounding the return man. UNI still reeled off a 46-yard Jarred Herring return immediately after ISU had pulled within 14-7.
“We pooch kicked in and put it in good places. But we were still not able to cover it,” Spack said. “Cover teams are all about speed. That’s where a lack of foot speed is an obvious detriment to this program. We have to continue to recruit speed and get faster players.”
ISU sophomore Ben Ericksen, who has two 80-plus yard returns this season, did not return kicks for the third straight game because of a hamstring ailment.
He was missed on the opening kickoff of the second half when Kelvyn Hemphill fumbled and UNI recovered.
“We can’t have kickoff returns to midfield, and we can’t turn the ball over,” said Spack. “We had some big plays but not enough to win the game.”
Freshman Cameron Hunt showed potential with kickoff returns of 45 and 39 yards in the second half.
Trick or treat: The Redbirds tried two trick plays against the Panthers. One worked and one failed.
ISU lined up for a 43-yard field goal attempt late in the first half. But holder Matt Lancaster flipped the ball over his shoulder to kicker Steven Fetzer, who ran for a first down.
In the third quarter, however, Ashton Leggett ran right after taking a handoff from quarterback Matt Brown. Leggett stopped and tried to lateral back to Brown. The toss was well off the mark and Brown had to chase down the loose ball for a 20-yard loss.
Extra points: ISU junior Marcus King caught a 9-yard pass in the second half for his first reception of the season.
- A sophomore, Brown became the fifth player in school history to reach the 4,000-yard milestone in career passing yardage.
- UNI kicker Billy Hallgren booted six extra points to move into a tie with Brian Wingert as the Panthers’ career scoring leader with 331 points. Hallgren’s 58 career field goals lead all active Championship Subdivision players.
Next up: ISU plays its final road game of the season next Saturday against Western Illinois in a 2 p.m. start at Macomb. The Redbirds have a 4-4 overall record and a 3-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference mark. The Leathernecks are 5-3 and 3-2, respectively.