Northern Iowa getting what it needs in playoffs

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

CEDAR FALLS - Whatever Northern Iowa's football team needs right now, the Panthers are getting.

That's why they're in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.

"I think we just adapt to the element we're playing in," running back Adam Benge. "It seems like lately, we needed scoring."

Northern Iowa had plenty of that in Saturday's quarterfinal game with Maine, rolling to a 56-28 victory to set a school record for points in a playoff game. The Panthers had tied the record the previous week in a 49-43 first-round win over Eastern Illinois.

Now they'll be going to top-seeded Montana this Saturday for a game that will determine one of the two berths in the national finals.

"There's a lot of second effort on this team," Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. "That's the core of our team. That's what's carrying us right now. That's what we hope carries us all the way through the Montana game and into Tennessee."

The championship game is in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Dec. 22.

Northern Iowa finished with 480 yards of offense against Maine. Benge rushed for 114 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-turning 63-yard romp in the third quarter. Griff Jurgens threw for 299 yards and two scores.

"I thought we'd do a better job of playing defense," Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. "We gave them third-down plays, big plays, big passing plays throughout the game."

Northern Iowa was 10-for-13 on third-down conversions. But the biggest play came on a first down.

It was 28-28 when Maine was stopped on fourth down at the Northern Iowa 37. Benge took a handoff from Jurgens on the next play, twisted and turned through the Maine defense while breaking several tackles and outran the pursuit once in the clear at midfield.

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