'Hometown buddies': Former Freeport football stars meet when UNI faces Illinois State

Former Freeport football stars Deion and Vance McShane are now in their final seasons of college football with Northern Iowa. For them, there's nothing more important than going out with a bang.

That includes getting a win over a team that has not only become a rival for the most recent Northern Iowa (2-3) squad, but one that has two more former Freeport stars starting on the defensive side of the ball.

Former Pretzels players Zeke Vandenburgh and Keondre Jackson of Illinois State (2-2) will most likely have to tackle former Pretzels players Deion (slotback) and Vance (running back) McShane as the Redbirds head to Cedar Falls, Iowa, for a 4 p.m. showdown on Saturday.

Deion and Vance both spent some time in Freeport with Vandenburgh, also a senior and in his last year of college eligibility. He leads ISU in tackles with 44 through four games, including 10 1/2 tackles for loss, six sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

And while Jackson, a sophomore who is fourth on the team with 20 tackles, as well as the other four Rockford-area players on the Redbirds' roster — E/PC's Peyton Asche on the O-line; Boylan's Noah Hickcox on the D-line; and freshmen defensive linemen Jake Anderson from Durand/Pecatonica and Max Caltagerone out of Boylan — did not spend time on the field with the McShane brothers in high school, this is still a special game.

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And an important one.

"They have two of our hometown buddies out there, so we want to go out and show our best," said Deion, the former three-time state-champion hurdler while at Freeport, and also an all-stater on the football field. "And we're still shooting for the playoffs. We need this game.

"We're shooting for a big finish."

UNI offense starts rolling

The McShane brothers and UNI got off to a slow start overall this season, although Deion stepped up his receiving game right away.

He had 106 yards receiving on six catches in the season opener, a 48-17 loss to Air Force. He then had 157 yards through the air on six more catches with a touchdown during a 29-27 setback to North Dakota in Week 2. His electrifying 72-yard TD reception with 6:51 left to play made for a dramatic finish, but the Panthers couldn't quite reel in the upset.

Deion had three catches for 19 yards as the Panthers finally got going, lighting up the scoreboard during a 52-17 victory over Western Illinois in the battle of two winless teams. He had a pair of grabs for 29 yards as UNI got on its first win streak of the year, and he has hauled in 20 catches so far this season for 350 yards with the one TD.

"Putting up points hasn't been an issue, but there's more we can do," Deion said of the Panthers' offense, which has averaged 27.4 points per game and put up 1,341 yards passing and 787 yards rushing through the first five games. "And we just have to get things going, and keep them that way. I think we're starting it now."

'We've got some confidence now.'

"We're ready for ISU, for sure," said Vance, who has averaged 5.2 yards per carry as the Panthers' starting tailback so far this season. "And we've got some confidence now. We're coming in with some confidence now."

It took a while, for both UNI and for Vance. He started slow but picked things up in Week 3 against then-No. 7-ranked Sacramento State when he rushed for 84 yards and a touchdown. His 4-yard TD slash cut the gap to 27-21, but UNI couldn't finish the comeback in that one, either, falling to 0-3 to start.

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"It wasn't easy, starting 0-3," Vance said. "We were doing everything we could, it just wasn't working ... Now, it is."

Vance had 44 yards on 10 carries in UNI's first win of the season, and he then had 57 yards on just 10 carries, making the most of every touch, on Oct. 1 when they knocked off Indiana State 20-14 headed into a bye week.

Now they're set to come out of their break and take on ISU, and they are highly motivated. They have three ranked teams left on the schedule, and this is one they want to make sure they get.

"We've started this winning streak," said Vance, who has 235 yards on 44 carries this year. "Now we need to just keep building off that. We get more confidence with every win, and there's more to come."

Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at jtaft@rrstar.com and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, for more than 20 years at the Register Star, and for nearly 30 years all together. He was a four-sport athlete himself, and is the father of five that went on to be jocks of some kind as well.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: College football: Freeport natives face off with UNI vs. Illinois State