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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Football set for bowl battle with Arkansas State

Scott Walstrom
NIU football head coach Thomas Hammock leads his players onto the Huskie Stadium field on Sept. 23 against the University of Tulsa. The Huskies will face Arkansas State University on Saturday in the Camellia Bowl. (Scott Walstrom | NIU Athletics)

DeKALBAfter taking down Kent State University 37-27 in its final regular season game of 2023, NIU football (6-6, 5-3 MAC) is headed to Montgomery, Alabama to take on Arkansas State University (6-6, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) in the Camellia Bowl Dec. 23. 

“Obviously we are excited to have an opportunity to extend our season, playing in the Camellia Bowl against Arkansas State,” said NIU football head coach Thomas Hammock. “You don’t really understand how important this time is from a developmental standpoint. Two years ago when we played in the Cure Bowl, we played in the (MAC) championship game and the Cure Bowl was two weeks later, so it was a quick turnaround. This (time off) has given us an opportunity to develop our football team.”

Dating back to the 2012 season, the Huskies have lost seven consecutive bowl games. NIU’s most recent bowl-game victory was a 38-20 over Arkansas State in the 2012 GoDaddy.Com Bowl following the 2011 season. 

“The history of bowl game performances has nothing to do with this football team,” Hammock said. “But we want to try to end the season on a high note. Ending the season on a high note means playing as well as you can play in the last game and preparing as well as you can prepare to put yourself in a position to have a chance to win. To me, it’s a big thing to send the seniors out with a win. Obviously there’s a championship attached to it, but it also builds momentum into next season as well.”

After a 1-4 start and four consecutive losses in September, the Huskies rallied to win five of their last seven games and secure bowl eligibility. 

“Just consistent belief in your teammates,” said senior defensive tackle James Ester. “Obviously everything isn’t gonna go perfect every week, but (redshirt senior offensive lineman) Nolan (Potter) kinda hit it on the head just playing complimentary football. If our defense wasn’t playing up to par, our offense was able to be there for us. If our offense wasn’t playing up to par, our defense was able to be there for us.”

Junior running back Antario Brown said the Huskies should make the most of the Camellia Bowl since most teams do not get the opportunity to compete in a bowl game.

“I kind of look at it like, just have fun,” Brown said. “This comes around every year at the end, but not a lot of teams get to make it, so if you do make it, have fun. We got a game coming up and when that time presents itself, just ball out with your guys.”


After announcing his decision to enter the transfer portal on Nov. 28, redshirt junior wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph announced Thursday he has withdrawn his name from the portal and will be returning to NIU for the 2024 season. 

“Trayvon wanted to play in the game and have one last experience, but thankfully this won’t be his last experience,” Hammock said. “We’re excited to have him back, excited about where he can go. I thought Trayvon played really, really well the second half of the season. We want to keep him healthy and have a great offseason so we can have 12 games of the Trayvon Rudolph we know can play.”

Brown, who was tagged in Rudolph’s post, said he did all he could to help get Rudolph to stay at NIU. 

“I was staying in his ear a lot,” Brown said. “Letting him know that this is home, he made a name for himself here and you still have a lot of unfinished business here.”

Hammock officially announced Friday the Huskies made a change at offensive coordinator after the end of the non-conference schedule. Former running backs coach and passing game coordinator Wesley Beschorner took over as offensive coordinator for Eric Eidsness for the MAC schedule. 

“During the non-conference schedule, we were struggling offensively and made a change in season at the offensive coordinator position,” Hammock said. “I wanted to, at least, publicly thank Wesley Beschorner. He took over the play-calling for the MAC season and did a phenomenal job with that.”


The Huskies will take on Arkansas State in their final game of the 2023 season at 11 a.m. Saturday in Montgomery, Alabama. The game will be televised on ESPN and audio will be available via The Varsity Network. Live stats will be available via SideArm Stats.

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