CHAMPAIGN | With their captain Jerry Kill back under the headset, the Huskies looked to add the Illinois Fighting Illini to the Boneyard. The Illini had other ideas though and defeated NIU 28-22 in front of 50,569 at Memorial Stadium.
The loss sends the Huskies to 0-4 all-time against Illinois and 2-32-1 against Big Ten opponents.
“I think [the players] understand where we’re at,” Kill said. “We are playing a very difficult schedule. We’re playing three BCS schools right off the bat. We understand that and I think our kids understand that and I’ve told them we are not going to back down from anybody.”
NIU (1-2) scored its first touchdown on a one-yard run by Chad Spann in the first quarter. Kill opted to go for the two-point conversion with Chandler Harnish under center, three receivers split to the left and six to the right. Harnish attempted a screen pass to kicker Mathew Sims, which was overthrown.
“Oh shoot, I rolled the dice,” Kill said. “I’ve been coaching this game for a long time, we didn’t come up here to lay up. I play golf; I’m not going to try and chip it up there, I’m going to try and knock the damn thing in the hole.”
The Huskies took the lead on their next drive when Harnish found a seam and ran 37 yards to pay dirt. NIU tried for the extra point kick, but for the second straight week, Sims missed the attempt and gave NIU its only lead of the game at 12-7.
NIU would get its chance late in the third on a drive starting at its own 12-yard line. Harnish would get the team to the Illinois 46 and from there, taking off on another long run of 16 yards before fumbling the ball. The Illini recovered the ball at their own 30 and zapped the momentum from NIU.
“It’s just one of those things that can’t happen,” Harnish said. “I tried to get a little too stylish I guess. I spun and I was running high.”
After another Illinois field goal the Huskies would add another touchdown, with Kill dialing up the trick play to cross the goal line.
Running back Jasmin Hopkins took a pitch from Harnish and threw a touchdown pass to a wide open Landon Cox to cut it to 21-19, but Illinois would drive the final nail in the coffin with a Mikel Leshoure touchdown.
Harnish again led NIU in the offensive department, rushing for 117 yards, while going 19-of-25 through the air for 208 yards. Spann was held to just 15 yards on 13 carries.
For the game Leshoure ran for 180 yards on 24 carries while Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase ran for 115 yards on 16 carries. Linebacker Martez Wilson tallied a game-high 11 tackles.
“We’re 2-1,” said Illinois head coach Ron Zook. “We could be 3-0; that would be a little better, but we’ll go from there. The guys are improving. Next time we can’t get so many penalties and the defense can’t give up big plays.”