Red-hot Huskies ice spot in MAC title game
BY RICK ARMSTRONG Sun-Times Media
MUNCIE, Ind. -- They have come nearly full circle.
The Northern Illinois football team did something special Saturday, pounding Ball State 59-21 for their eighth consecutive victory. It's the Huskies' longest such streak since the program moved to Division I in 1969. More importantly, it clinches at least a share of the Mid-American Conference West title and a berth in the league championship game Dec. 3 in Detroit.
''My class came in and went 2-10 our first year , and now we have a chance to go 10-2 and get to take a trip to the MAC championship,'' said senior tailback Chad Spann, who had touchdown runs of two, seven and 12 yards.
The Huskies, 9-2 overall and 7-0 in the MAC, conclude the regular season Friday at Eastern Michigan.
''It's good to get it done,'' NIU coach Jerry Kill said. ''I got after them a bit this morning. It's easy, even for people my age [to lose focus]. Your mind can drift other places. They were focused, took care of what they needed to do. They've listened to me, for the most part, this season.''
The Huskies opened with a 69-yard scoring drive. Quarterback Chandler Harnish, who completed his first six passes and finished 15-for-22 for 247 yards, capped it with a 37-yard scoring pass to Nathan Palmer with 12:06 left in the first.
He and Palmer (two catches, 84 yards) hooked up on 47-yard score in the second quarter.
''The offense struggled at times, but the defense held us in there and the special teams set us up with some big plays,'' Harnish said.
Did they ever, particularly the punt-return unit.
Ball State punter Scott Kovanda will have nightmares about this one after having three kicks blocked, two by Jordan Delegal and one by Ricky Crider. Freshman Jimmie Ward, who has blocked three punts this season, scooped up one and returned it 15 yards for a score.
The others set up short scoring drives. When the Huskies finally let Kovanda kick, Tommy Davis returned one 52 yards to set up another touchdown.
''[Special-teams coach] Jay Sawvel tells us every week, 'Leave a lingering effect with the audience,' '' Delegal said. ''Our pressure is so good with Jimmie Ward, myself and Darnell Bolding. ... Their [blockers] were getting tighter [each time] but they really couldn't stop us."
The Cardinals (4-8, 3-5) made it interesting with two scores to open the third quarter, closing to 35-21. But NIU responded with 24 consecutive points.