Playing in swirling winds amongst a raucous homecoming crowd, NIU (4-3, 2-1 MAC) took advantage of the surplus school spirit and beat the Western Michigan Broncos (4-3, 2-1 MAC) 51-22.
From the start of the game, it was obvious that the wind was a factor after seeing both teams struggle to field punts, kick field goals and pass. But as odd as it may seemed, the Huskies were happy for the blustery day.
"This is DeKalb; you're going to have wind like this, and we practice in the wind all the time, so we love it," said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. "We were fired up about playing in it."
Western Michigan didn't seem to enjoy the windy weather so much, as they looked off key from start to finish.
Against a stiff NIU defense, the Broncos were able to take an early 6-0 lead after making two field goals, but missed connections and dropped passes stalled their offense, as they failed to take advantage of early Huskie turnovers.
"We didn't win any routes, we didn't block anyone up front; there were just so many breakdowns that we couldn't get into a rhythm," said Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit. "You can say all you want about the conditions, the simple fact is we got our butts whooped".
The turnovers kept the Huskies out of reach in the first half, despite the good play of their defense. Junior wide receiver Perez Ashford fumbled a punt, and quarterback Chandler Harnish threw an interception which kept the Huskies out of the end zone.
After a touchdown run by Jasmin Hopkins that put the Huskies up 7-6, the Broncos scored on a safety after NIU muffed a snap in their own end zone. NIU punter Ryan Neir had to fall on the ball, putting WMU back up 8-7.
Both teams had opportunities to put more points on the board as the halftime score read 15-13, Western Michigan. The Broncos scored on a touchdown pass from Alex Carder to senior wide out Chleb Ravenell, but missed a long field goal.
The Huskies again had difficulties maneuvering in the red zone, and had to rely upon two Matt Sims field goals to keep them in the game.
While both teams looked out of sync offensively in the first half, the Huskies caught fire, and started to play a complete game after the half. Doeren said he didn't say anything special to his team at halftime; he simply challenged them to play better.
"I don't remember the exact words, I just challenged the special teams to play better, told the defense to keep doing what they were doing and I told the offense to score touchdowns," Doeren said.
Whatever Doeren said, it worked.
In a dominating second half by the Huskies, they scored 38 unanswered points and 24 in the third quarter alone. The touchdowns came in bunches: two by running back Akeem Daniels, two by Hopkins, a 66-yard score by back-up quarterback Jordan Lynch and a field goal by Sims gave the Huskies a 51-15 lead.
Cubit said WMU just didn't have an answer for the NIU offense.
"They ran two schemes in the second half, and we couldn't stop them," Cubit said. "We couldn't block them, it was an absolutely poor performance."
Three of the scores were set up on long runs by Harnish, who had 216 yards rushing alone in the third quarter, and set a single game school rushing record with 231 total yards on the ground.
"It was tiring, but it was a lot of fun," Harnish said. "The offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers did a great job of blocking, my reads were simple, and the holes were so wide open, if I was a little faster I would've scored some touchdowns."
During the NIU offensive onslaught, its defense allowed only one score in the second half, as they forced two three-and-outs and had a fourth down stop against the Broncos offense. The Huskies' defense also picked off Carder, which later set up a Hopkins score.
NIU defensive end Sean Progar said the Broncos just couldn't deal with its defensive game plan.
"They didn't know how to handle the blitzes and schemes we had coming," Progar said. "And it's a credit to our coaches that we were in the backfield all game."
A late touchdown by Western Michigan running back Antoin Scriven made the final score 51-22.
"I'm still in shock," said Carder. "I think we thought that we were better than we are; we definitely came into this game a little bloated".