Exhausted and elated, Scott Wedige took hold of the rivalry trophy in both hands, lifted it above his head, and shouted triumphantly towards the night sky.
Finally, it was over. After NIU scraped, clawed and chewed its way to a thrilling 41-38 victory over Ball State, Wedige was barely able to convey his emotions.
"I can't even describe the feeling; I was so excited, so exhausted, I was shaking with so much adrenaline," Wedige said. "I can't even explain it. It was an unbelievable feeling."
This wasn't just another blowout in which the Huskies were able to turn on cruise control. This was a game no one was going to give away. This was a game that showcased the core concepts of football: hard work and a team effort.
Or as Wedige would put it, faith.
"We met and decided that our word was going to be faith," Wedige said. "We were going to have faith in everybody no matter what, and that was evident tonight."
NIU needed faith after it gave up 107 yards in penalties. It needed faith after two fumbles gave Ball State a 24-14 halftime lead, and it needed faith especially after a Ball State interception return for a touchdown was called back on a personal foul penalty.
On an offense that had to keep fighting for first downs, it was easy for NIU to believe in its running game. The Huskies' running attack worked again Tuesday night as quarterback Chandler Harnish rushed for over 200 yards, and running back Jasmin Hopkins ran for 125 and had two touchdowns.
But the real show of faith came in the passing game.
NIU receivers Martel Moore, Nathan Palmer, Willie Clark and Perez Ashford were blanketed all night by Ball State's defensive back.
Yet time and again, as Harnish threw into double and triple coverage, his receivers kept making fingertip grabs and routinely wrestled close catches away from defenders.
The highlight reel of receptions helped steer NIU to victory. On Moore's 44-yard catch that set up a score, the Ball State defensive back was covering him so closely it looked like the two players had become one.
Moore, of course, downplayed the degree of difficulty.
"Chandler threw it, and I had to catch it," Moore said. "That's just the deal."
It was a cold, hard fought victory, and those black-clad fans that came out for the game were witness to a team that truly wanted to win more than their opponent.