Cold, winds sidetrack NIU, USL game plans

By David Lance

Southwestern Louisiana had just beat NIU 13-12 in the snow at Huskie Stadium Saturday for its first win of the year, but the Ragin‘ Cajuns didn’t stay on the field to congratulate one another.

Instead, they made a beeline for their locker rooms and warmer confines.

“I’m ready to go home,” Ragin’ Cajuns’ kicker Richie Cunningham said. “I can do without snow for the rest of this winter.”

The temperature at the game was 19 degrees, the wind chill was 25 degrees below zero and the wind was blowing 20 mph from the west.

“Once you got running around, it doesn’t bother you,” NIU defensive end Scott Van Bellinger said.

“I’ve never been in conditions where, not only the cold was the problem, but the winds out there were devastating,” NIU head football coach Charlie Sadler said.

Offensively, the Huskies and the Ragin‘ Cajuns rely on their running game to move the ball, but they occasionally like to throw. The weather nullified whatever passing plans either team had, as NIU had 33 net yards passing and USL had 20.

“You had more success with the lower throws,” NIU quarterback Rob Rugai said. “If you put it up, it just got knocked either way.”

“I thought we both made a lot of mistakes out there, but I thought the elements and the weather had a lot to do with it,” USL head coach Nelson Stokley said. “I’m very pleased the way our team came out and played and tried to mentally set aside the conditions and play football.”

NIU rushed for 191 yards on 57 carries, while USL rushed 63 times for 287 yards. Though the Ragin’ Cajuns had more total yards than NIU, their offense was unable to score a touchdown.

So to get into the end zone, USL used trickery.

With 9:21 left in the first half, the Ragin‘ Cajuns took a 6-0 lead when cornerback Harold Nash ran for a 71-yard TD off a fake punt.

“The whole week we said we were going to score with it,” Nash said. “I told (USL linebacker) James Freeman I’m going to bring it in the middle and juke it.

“I just did what I had to do and I thank all those guys who blocked for me on that left side, as well as the right side.”

Rash said USL ran the fake punt not because its offense couldn’t score, but because it’s a Ragin’ Cajuns’ specialty.

“I thought they would be in safe because we have a history of running fake punts,” he said. “I saw them in safe and I saw them back out and I said, ‘Lord, it’s going to be open right now.'”