CEDAR FALLS, Iowa - Sean McGuire found Jaelon Acklin for a 20-yard touchdown with six seconds left Saturday (Oct. 7) to seal a wild 38-29 comeback win for the Western Illinois Leathernecks over the Northern Iowa Panthers in the UNI-Dome.
"There's no quit in these guys. Our offensive line dug down in deep. That's what championship football is, and that's what championship drives are all about. These are memories. When these kids do things like this, these are things they will remember for a lifetime, said head coach Charlie Fisher. ""When adversity strikes, you don't give in. I just told them at halftime, 'We need to just flip the switch and change the tide.' And we did. We played well enough, obviously against a very good opponent in a very tough environment. There's a lot to be had here, and there's a lot our team gained in this win."
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With 1:12 left in the game, the Leathernecks (4-1, 1-1) started on the 35 because of a kick out of bounds by UNI (2-3, 1-1). McGuire completed a pass to Brandon Gaston for 21 yards to move the ball to the UNI 44. After a false start that caused 2nd-and-15, the Leathernecks had two incomplete passes that forced a 4th-and-15 from the UNI 49. Western called a timeout before the fourth down play and it paid off, as McGuire found Gaston for 16 yards on the sideline.
On the next play, McGuire escaped pressure from the Panther defensive line and scrambled down the middle of the field for 13 yards. On 3rd-and-10, McGuire found Acklin for a 20-yard score that put the Leathernecks in front 32-29.
"We've got a good vertical passing game. We know what we're doing, throwing the ball down the field. We've got a guy that's experienced, he (McGuire) has been in this situation so many times," said Fisher. "He's going to look at you, he's going to wink, he's going to tell you, 'Coach, I got it,' and I believe him. I told the team, 'Who else would we rather have at quarterback?' I'd take him anytime, anywhere, any place, on my team."
BRING OUT THE GATORADE!— WIU Football (@WIUfootball) October 8, 2017
What about that LEATHERNECK WIN.
Round Five goes to Western. pic.twitter.com/KeBJJtJqnI
On the ensuing kickoff, Michael Bishoff recovered a fumble and ran it in the end zone as time expired to finish off the 38-29 victory, and Western's second consecutive 4-1 start.
On the first drive of the game for the Leathernecks, McGuire found Acklin for 46 yards and the Leathernecks eventually moved the ball to the UNI 1 before two false start penalties stalled the Western drive. Sam Crosa drove in a 28-yard field goal to put the Leathernecks up 3-0. The Leathernecks forced a three-and-out on the first Panther possession.
After trading punts for the remaindered of the quarter, the Panthers started a drive on the Western 44-yard line. On the very next play, Tyrin Holloway intercepted the Eli Dunne pass to give the Leathernecks back the ball. The turnover was Holloway's third interception of the season. Western could not take advantage of the turnover on offense, but Adam Fellner's punt pinned the Panthers inside their own 1-yard line.
The Panthers busted the second play of the drive for a 97-yard touchdown, but it was called back due to an illegal formation penalty on the Panthers. On 3rd-and-9, Pete Swenson sacked Dunne in the end zone for a safety to put the Leathernecks up 5-0.
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After getting the ball after the safety, the Leathernecks were forced to punt. On the ensuing drive for the Panthers, Dunne found Daurice Fountain for 19 yards and then Elias Nissen for a 30-yard score for a 7-5 Panthers lead.
The Purple and Gold punted on the next drive and UNI was able to take advantage. Dunne completed a pass to Fountain that was stripped on the goal line by Xavier Rowe. However, the Panthers Nissen recovered the fumble in the endzone for his second score of the day. The fumble recovery put Western down 14-5 at the half.
The Leathernecks did not let the first half miscues stop them from scoring in the second half, as the Leathernecks put together 33 second-half points. On the second UNI drive of the half, David Griffith intercepted Dunne for his first interception on the year. Starting from the UNI 25, McGuire was able to find Acklin for 22 yards to set up a Steve McShane 1-yard touchdown run to pull Western within two at 14-12.
As time expires, Bishoff recovers the fumble on the kickoff FOR A TD.— WIU Football (@WIUfootball) October 8, 2017
WHAT. A. GAME. pic.twitter.com/J9w24rrMcg
After forcing another UNI punt, Western went play-action and McGuire found Isaiah LeSure down the middle for a 46-yard score. The Leathernecks went for two after the touchdown, but the pass fell incomplete, keeping the score at 18-14.
With 12:26 to go in the fourth quarter, McGuire found Acklin for 24 yards on the sideline. McShane carried the ball on the next play for seven yards, and then McGuire launched another pass to Acklin, who scored from 38 yards out to put Western up 25-14 with 11:01 to play.
The Panthers responded with a nine-play, 81-yard drive that was capped of by an 18-yard strike from Dunne to Nissen. The score pulled Northern Iowa to within three points, 25-22.
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Northern Iowa then forced a Leatherneck punt and followed it up with a 16-play drive that included 13 Dunne passing attempts. The last of the attempts was a touchdown caught by Aaron Graham for 16 yards, putting the Panthers up 29-25 before Western Illinois' wild final drive.
The Leathernecks return to Hanson Field for a 3 p.m. kickoff next Saturday (Oct. 14) against Missouri State. Saturday's contest is ALS Advocacy Day, as Western Illinois football will team with the Team Gleason Foundation to raise money in combatting ALS.