Huskies overcome road woes

By Carl Ackerman

Good things come to those who wait, and for NIU’s football team that waiting appears to be over.

After struggling early in the season, the Huskies have mustered up four consecutive victories and propelled themselves to a 6-3 record.

NIU’s latest triumph, a 31-28 win over Akron Saturday, was its first road win of the season after three unsuccessful attempts.

“I felt really good after the game,” head coach Jerry Pettibone said. “Even though we made a lot of mistakes, the thing that kept coming through to me was the maturity of our team to overcome its mistakes and continue to play hard with the poise to win in the end. That’s the sign of a mature team.”

Although the win stopped NIU’s road skid, it was not an easy victory. In fact, it may have been the most nail-biting victory for NIU this season which was just 3:19 away from another road loss.

Claude Royster temporarily put those worries to rest after snagging a Stacey Robinson touchdown pass. NIU had a final scare in the end when a controversial referee’s call gave Akron one last chance for a TD with :01 remaining. NIU’s Earl Upton spoiled Akron’s hopes when he intercepted the pass in the end zone.

“There was a lot of anxiety in that game. I told the players that I never sensed at any time that they didn’t think we couldn’t win the game. They never gave me any indication anything was wrong. That was really impressive,” Pettibone said.

Despite the team’s home domination over the last three years, NIU’s success in winning road games is a much different story.

NIU has compiled an impressive 16-1 record at home over the past three years while posting a 6-8 road record.

Pettibone is quick to acknowledge that many of these road losses were to quality teams. Two of the eight losses were to powerhouse Nebraska and two were to a “major independent team,” Toledo.

However, NIU’s most recent road loss was a 24-7 decision to Northwestern, a team not noted for its powerful football program. Pettibone said he is still unsure why things went wrong at Northwestern.

“We have a chance to have a .500 record in our road games for the last two years if we win our last two games,” Pettibone said.

NIU’s next opponents will be East Carolina Nov. 10. and Southwest Louisiana Nov. 17 which beat the Huskies two years ago 45-0 in Louisiana.

One thing that can have a great effect on a team’s road performance is the many nuisances involved when traveling.

“When you’re on the road, even though you try to keep the same type of schedule when eating, working out or watching movies, there are still differences whether it’s the hotel or the surroundings. At home, you’re in familiar surroundings which gives you a lot more confidence,” Pettibone said.

Probably the biggest set of nuisances NIU has encountered this season was during the Toledo trip.

Pettibone said there was an hour-and-a-half wait before the plane took off. Then after flying through storms on the way to Detroit, the team had to wait nearly 50 minutes before departing the plane. After arriving in Toledo by bus, NIU’s problems continued. The Friday workout had to be canceled because of tornado warnings, and the buses to take the players to the stadium never showed up. They had to be driven in taxis.