Weather, Cajuns freeze Huskies

By Wes Swietek

The football during Saturday’s NIU—Southwestern Louisiana game squirmed out of players’ hands as if it were a block of ice, and considering the weather (25 below-zero wind chill), it must have felt like one too.

The Huskies and Southwestern Louisiana combined for 10 fumbles, but NIU’s miscues proved to be more costly as the Ragin‘ Cajuns pulled out a 13-12 victory at frozen, wind-whipped Huskie Stadium.

The win gave USL (1-7-1) its first victory of the season while the Huskies lost their seventh-straight to drop to 1-8.

With NIU ahead 12-10, the Ragin’ Cajuns’ winning field goal was set up when NIU return man Sean Allgood fumbled a fair catch on a punt, giving USL the ball on NIU’s 31 late in the third quarter. Four plays later, Cajun kicker Richie Cunningham hit a 46-yarder for the win.

The Huskies had one more chance, but quarterback Stacey McKinney fumbled at USL’s 33 with 38 seconds left.

“It was a very closely contested football game, either team could have won,” said a relieved USL head coach Nelson Stokley, no longer facing the prospect of a winless season.

“Both teams made a lot of mistakes, but the weather had a lot to do with it. We’re not used to conditions like this.

“I’ve never been in a more difficult situation, it was brutal out there,” Stokley said of the swirling snow, freezing temperatures and ferocious winds that swayed light towers like Popsicle sticks.

Not only did each squad lose four fumbles, the vicious winds limited the teams to 53 net yards passing combined.

“The cold wasn’t the problem, the winds were devastating,” NIU head coach Charlie Sadler said. “You see passes that can’t be completed, field goals missed, punts that go five yards.”

USL scored first when cornerback Harold Nash took a faked punt 71 yards for a TD.

NIU responded when Rob Rugai, who alternated at QB with McKinney, hit Vaurice Patterson for a 22-yard scoring pass that Patterson out-wrestled a USL defender for. Willy Roy Jr.‘s PAT kick was no good to make it 7-6.

A few minutes later, McKinney scored on a three-yard QB keeper for a 12-7 NIU lead. Cunningham then hit a career-best 50-yard field goal to make it 12-10 at the half. The only scoring in the second half was Cunningham’s game-winning field goal.

The announced attendance was 11,093, although several thousand less actually braved the weather to watch the Huskies drop their third-straight home game.

Sadler said he will continue to rotate McKinney (1-of-4 with 11 yards passing, 61 yards rushing and one TD) and Rugai (1-of-5, 22 yards passing with one TD, one interception and 36 rushing yards).

“Both quarterbacks can contribute to the football team,” Sadler said. “At least for the rest of the season, I see (alternating QBs) happening.”

The loss was especially hard to take for Sadler.

“Our football team has done such a tremendous job of fighting through the hard times,” he said. “It hurts from the standpoint that you hate to see guys so committed and so enthusiastic … you hate that they’re not rewarded with a victory.”