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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Huskies shut out Broncos in statement win

Tim Dodge
Redshirt freshman Dane Pardridge returns a punt from Western Michigan University on Tuesday. NIU football defeated the Broncos 24-0 to win its fifth game of the year. (Tim Dodge | Northern Star)

DeKALB – After a crushing 20-17 loss to Ball State University last week, NIU football (5-6, 4-3 MAC) bounced back on senior night at Huskie Stadium, cruising past the Western Michigan University Broncos (4-7, 3-4 MAC) 24-0 Tuesday.

NIU dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for over 39 minutes, while the Broncos possessed the ball for just 20:35. The Huskies were able to control both the clock and the game by dominating on the ground. 

NIU rushed for 287 yards and picked up 5.7 yards per carry. Junior running back Antario Brown led the Huskie backfield with 21 carries for 159 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.

“It took us (the offense) a while to get things going, but we got good players, and we got a good offensive line,” said NIU football head coach Thomas Hammock. “We got a quarterback that did a tremendous job tonight managing the game the way we needed to manage the game, and we put ourselves in position to be in manageable situations where you can get it on third down and run behind the strength of these guys (the offensive line). That’s how we should play.”

The NIU defense allowed just 24 rushing yards and forced 8 Bronco punts. 

“Our first shutout since 2019,” said senior defensive tackle James Ester. “This defense has been on a different level this year, best defense since I’ve been here in my entire career. I feel like we’ve done great things all season, and I feel like we’re just seeing the fruits of our labor come around. It means everything, especially this game, my last game here at Huskie Stadium.”

The Huskies were firing in all three facets against the Broncos, including special teams. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Dane Pardridge scored the first punt return touchdown for the Huskies since 2009.

Pardridge, a walk-on, has seen increased play time due to the injury of senior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz and revealed postgame that he was playing with a heavy heart.

“Initially, I wasn’t planning on returning it, but I saw that there was an opening to the right,” Pardridge said. “I was able to cut back and score, and it was just an amazing feeling. My grandma passed away recently, and I was playing for her tonight.”


NIU honored 14 seniors prior to kickoff Tuesday. Ester and redshirt senior offensive lineman Nolan Potter were a part of the 2023 senior class and were four year starters at NIU.

“Obviously senior night is always an emotional night,” Hammock said. “Not only these two (Ester and Potter), but there are other guys in that locker room that are going to have opportunities. As a coach, you want the best for them, right? You want to put them in a position to be successful.”

Ester praised the coaching staff at NIU for helping him grow as a person both on and off the field.

“I think when I came in (to NIU), I had a lot to learn,” Ester said. “I was 17 years old, I wasn’t perfect. I definitely wouldn’t say I was the leader that I am now. I was just a guy trying to make it. I think that through this coaching staff, everybody around, everybody’s helped me develop into a much better person. I can’t thank them enough for that.”

Potter said the people he’s met at NIU helped shape who he is and have helped him grow up.

“I’ve been here for six years, so I’ve definitely been around a couple different faces,” Potter said. “Just building a connection, it’s always been a brotherhood throughout this team.”


With the Huskies’ win over Western Michigan, their hopes of competing in a bowl game are still very much alive. 

“We got to have another great week this week with the understanding that, hey, this is our last game of the regular season. If we want to play another one, we got to find a way to score more points than them (Kent State),” Hammock said.

The Huskies are now one win away from being bowl eligible, making next week’s Nov. 25 game against Kent State University a win and in for NIU. 

“All week, (defensive coordinator) Coach (Nick) Benedetto preached to us playoff football, playoff mentality,” Ester said. “You’re playing for your life. Western Michigan was in the same position we were, so it’s not like they were just out there playing for nothing.”


The Huskies final regular season game will be against Kent State on Nov. 25 in Kent, Ohio. Kickoff time, viewing options and live stats for the game are still to be announced.

“When you go through the ups and downs of the season, that makes you stronger as a football team,” Hammock said. “These guys are strong, and I told them before the game I loved them because I do.”

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