Huskies sneak by pesky Zips

By Eric Burt

AKRON, Ohio_ “We feel great now even though we made a lot of mistakes. We feel great because we won a game on the road.”

That was what NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone had to say after his Huskies squeaked by Akron 31-28, improving their record to 6-3.

A five-yard touchdown toss from Stacey Robinson to a wide open Claude Royster, with 3:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, capped their second 96-yard drive of the afternoon and secured the Huskies’ first road win of the season.

Well, almost.

A questionable referee’s decision at the end of the game put one second back on the clock and allowed the Zips (3-6-1) a chance to win the game on the final play. Akron quarterback Mark Friday’s prayer pass was intercepted by Earl Upton in the end zone.

Either way, the Huskies came away with a victory that insures their third consecutive winning season, and extended their current winning streak to four games.

But for most of the afternoon, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy.

The Huskies jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their first series with their first 96-yard drive when Corey Ray took a Robinson pitch eight yards for a touchdown.

The Zips marched the ball right back 80 yards and tied the score on a 27-yard scamper by Tyrone Nelson.

On the first play of the second quarter, flanker Jeff Williams took a Friday pitch and threw back across the field 14 yards to a wide open Friday to put the Zips up 13-7. NIU’s Rob Wagner blocked the extra point. The block turned out to be a major point in the game which forced the Zips to attempt two-point conversions the rest of the game and allowed for the three-point margin of victory.

NIU regained the lead, 14-13, when a Kevin Cassidy interception set up a 12-yard Adam Dach touchdown. Dach finished the day with a career-high 170 yards on 20 carries.

“Besides this game and Kansas State, I didn’t feel that I was contributing running the ball,” Dach said. “Since Stacey came in, he’s done such a great job on the perimeter that my role has changed quite a bit to blocking, and that’s fine with me. I’m always happy when I get 20-25 carries.”

In the second half, the Huskies almost fumbled themselves out of the game. Three NIU fumbles allowed the Zips to take a 28-24 lead.

“I don’t think the confidence was there the whole game,” Robinson said. “We just didn’t have the concentration that we were supposed to have. There was nothing else we could do wrong. We did everything wrong we could possibly do.”

Robinson finished the game with 82 yards on 12 carries. He also completed five-of-nine passes for 70 yards.

Steve Henriksen led the Huskies defense with 14 tackles. Rich Favor intercepted his team-leading fourth pass.