CEDAR FALLS, Iowa – Mark Farley has made a few trips to Missoula with his Northern Iowa football team.
Those four journeys haven’t been particularly enjoyable. Washington-Grizzly Stadium is a tough place to play and all four times UNI has been there, Montana has ended its season in the FCS playoffs. Add one more Griz victory in the UNI-Dome and the Panthers are 0-5 in the all-time series, although one of those Montana wins was vacated due to NCAA sanctions.
At 3 p.m. MDT Saturday, third-ranked UNI (1-0) will welcome No. 14 Montana (1-0) to the Dome for its home opener. Farley hopes Cedar Falls isn’t a fun place for the Grizzlies to play, either.
“It is neat for our fans,” Farley said. “We’ve always had to travel to them with great teams on both sides. They are a worthy opponent and somebody who is coming to us that we are very familiar with.
“Our fans have always had to sit at home and watch this game on TV and now they can be part of the game.”
Ticket sales for Saturday’s game are running just behind the numbers UNI sold a year ago for its season opener against Eastern Washington. Late last week, just more than 5,000 season tickets had been sold in comparison to 5,343 a year ago, and just under 1,000 single-game tickets have been sold for the Montana game, which is down from 1,172 sold for the EWU game a year ago.
UNI drew 12,292 a year ago for its 2015 season opener and officials are hoping to surpass that number Saturday.
Farley has invited the entire former UNI teams who made the trips to Montana for this Saturday’s game.
“I thought it would be fun to bring back all of our football alum from those teams, and I knew it would be an extra incentive for those players to come back because they left a lot of themselves out on that field out there,” Farley said. “A lot of people are anxious to come back.
“We are only as good as our past and I share that all the time with our team. We want to share that gratitude to those that have laid the foundation for our success. This is one way we get to do that.”
Farley hopes to have some of his former players speak to the team prior to the game. If he could, he joked, he’d play a couple of them.
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While the game has historical significance for the Panthers, it is also significant because it is one of three Top 25 showdowns between the Missouri Valley and Big Sky Conferences this weekend.
While it is early in the season, the FCS playoff committee will look at these matchups come time to select the FCS playoff field in November. A year ago, UNI was 3-0 against the Big Sky, beating Eastern Washington and Cal Poly during the regular season and Portland State in the playoffs.
No. 1 North Dakota State is hosting No. 8 Eastern Washington, and No. 18 Western Illinois is hosting No. 19 Northern Arizona in the other MVFC-Big Sky showdowns.
“I know this – the Big Sky is probably the most challenging league besides ours in FCS football,” Farley said. “It is a great interleague challenge, but it also will determine a lot of things when it comes to December because this is a measuring stick for those looking at the Big Sky vs. the Missouri Valley.
“There is an upside, but again it is very early in the season so I don’t know if everybody is playing their best football right now.”
UNI came out of the Iowa State game relatively healthy with everybody who played against the Cyclones expected to play Saturday. Malcolm Washington, who was slotted to start at cornerback against ISU before suffering an ankle injury in practice last week and did not play, remains questionable.
Middle linebacker Jared Farley was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference defensive player of the week for his efforts against Iowa State. The junior racked up a team-high eight tackles that included four solos and four assists. His key play, however, came in the final two minutes when he intercepted Joel Lanning to seal the Panthers’ win.
Austin Errthum won the placekicking job out of preseason drills, but he struggled Saturday, making just one of three field goals attempts. Farley said the competition between Errthum and Matt Easley will continue moving forward.
“There is always competition,” Farley said. “He didn’t have a good day, neither did our punter. It is what it is. There are just like any other player. They have to come back this week, put that away and move forward, not worry about what I choose to do but go out and do the best they can to prepare for this game.”