Panthers rely on CF grad’s kicking skills in playoff run

By Taylor Bern 2006

It’s not always easy being a kicker.

The game often lands on the slender shoulders of a kicker and the outcome, win or lose, means that he is either everyone’s hero or everyone’s scapegoat.

2003 CFHS graduate Brian Wingert doesn’t know what it feels like to be the scapegoat.

The junior at the University of Northern Iowa shook off a rough patch of missed filed goals in the beginning of the season to become one the most clutch kickers in Division I-AA.

“It was a great resilience by Brian because he really struggled throughout the season. We didn’t kick many field goals at the beginning of the season, and when he did start kicking field goals, he struggled,” UNI fifth-year head coach Mark Farley said.

Wingert made just three field goals and missed an extra point in his first eight games.

“At that time he really could’ve gone south and really struggled worse, but we stayed with him,” Farley said. “He needed to just go out and kick the ball and not put so much pressure on himself.”

“As a kicker, you have to put that (a missed kick) in the past and go kick by kick,” Wingert said. “As soon as you miss one, I’m not gonna lie, it’s in the back of your head, but you have to put that behind you. That’s some something every kicker has to overcome.”

The three-year starter found a way to forget about his misses and pulled off one of the most amazing turnaround seasons that anyone’s ever seen.

The Panthers faced must-win games starting at the end of October, and it didn’t take long for Wingert to shake off his rough start and show his true form once his team really needed him.

Wingert hit one field goal in a 23-20 overtime win over Western Kentucky, and he came back with two against rival Southern Illinois in a 25-24 victory. After adding two more in a 41-17 blowout win over Northern Arizona, Wingert and the Panthers were ready for their amazing playoff run.

In the Panthers’ first round game, Wingert drilled two field goals, including a 31-yarder late in the fourth quarter that was the margin of victory in a 41-38 win over Eastern Washington.

In the second round, UNI traveled out east to face No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded New Hampshire. The Panthers were just 2-9 in playoff games on the road coming into the game.

After the Wildcats erased UNI’s 21-0 lead, the outcome was very unsure, but in the fourth quarter with 11:50 left in the game, there was Wingert once again with the deciding points as UNI disposed of New Hampshire 24-21.

In the semi-final round, the Panthers traveled down to San Marcos, Texas, to face Texas State. It was the Panthers’ sixth trop to the semi-final round, but never had they advanced to the finals.

After an errant extra point in the first quarter, Wingert bounced back to hit a 41-yarder right before halftime. He wasn’t finished there.

UNI drove 72 yards to score a touchdown and got the 2-point conversion to tie up the game and send it into overtime. Once again, there was Wingert with the deciding points. A 25-yarder lifted the Panthers to a 40-37 lead, and after a Matt Tharp interception sealed the deal, UNI was headed to Chattanooga, Tenn., for the title game and a lot of credit was due to the leg of Wingert.

“He didn’t have to carry the team; he just needed to do his job, and once he started doing that and we got into the playoffs, he became the Brian Wingert that’s been here the past two seasons,” Farley said.

In the Panthers’ first ever championship game Wingert shined.

On UNI’s first drive, he hit a career long 50-yard field goal. He followed that up with a 26-yarder to go up 6-0

After exchanging touchdowns, Wingert hit a 31-yarder to put his team up 16-7 at halftime. It was the performance kickers dream of, but this time there was no chance for Wingert to seal a win with a late filed goal.

The Appalachian State Mountaineers scored 14 unanswered points in the second half and won the 28th D-IAA championship 21-16.

The Panthers miracle season fell five points short.

But now that they’ve had a taste of the championship, the returning players are looking for more.

And for one more season, there will be Brian Wingert making field goals and taking none of the credit.

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