Huskies overcome Cajuns 23-20

By Wes Swietek

The outcome of NIU’s game against Southwestern Louisiana, as well as any hopes for a post season bowl bid, was literally in the hands of quarterback Stacey Robinson with three seconds left and his team trailing 20_17.

In front of a sparse crowd of 5,604, Robinson took the snap, rolled around the left end, and behind the blocks of Adam Dach and Mike Strasser, powered his way into the end zone from seven yards out to give NIU the 23_20 come from behind victory. Huskie head coach Jerry Pettibone called Saturday’s win the most important game for NIU in five years.

Robinson, who rushed for 164 yards and threw for 78 yards and a touchdown on the day, said he was confident with the game’s outcome riding on his shoulders.

“I was looking for Adam all the way to get the linebacker down and as soon as the linebacker went down there was no doubt in my mind. There was no way that I was going to be denied the goal line once I saw the seam,” Robinson said.

USL head coach Nelson Stokley said that the Ragin‘ Cajuns knew what NIU would run on the final play—”Run the quarterback. We knew that, hopefully our defense knew that. He (Robinson) made a lot of big plays, he was the difference in the ball game.”

“I dropped to my knees on the sideline when I saw Stacey run into the end zone and thanked the Lord,” said Pettibone. “Everything slowed down and it looked like it was in slow motion. I was thinking that this was such a great football game that it was fitting that it would come down to one play—the last play.”

NIU had taken an early 3-0 lead on a 41-yard John Ivanic field goal with 6:38 left in the first quarter. The kick was set up by Dave Jensen’s 56-yard punt that had pinned USL on its own nine-yard line.

The Huskies increased their lead to 10-0 on halfback Tyrone Isaac’s one-yard plunge late in the second quarter which culminated a 13 play, 84-yard drive by NIU. A key 15-yard scramble by Robinson on a third-and-four had kept the Huskie drive going.

On the ensuing USL possessions, Ragin’ Cajun quarterback Brian Mitchell showed why he has been called a “dark horse” Heisman Trophy Candidate. Mitchell streaked through the center of the NIU defense on a quarterback draw for a 67-yard touchdown that drew USL to within three, 10-7.

USL gained their first lead of the game, 14-10, early in the third quarter behind the running of Mitchell. The “Sultan of the Swamp” rambled for gains of 17, 14 and nine-yards on successive plays to set up fullback Felton Parquet’s 25-yard touchdown.

USL extended its lead to 17-10 on Mike Lemoine’s 44-yard field goal with 4:50 left in the third quarter before the Huskies battled back to knot the contest at 17 all.

The game-tying drive was sparked by Raymond Patterson’s 48-yard kickoff return that gave NIU the ball at the USL 43-yard line. After a 13-yard run by Robinson, the quarterback hooked up with tight-end Claude Royster for the tying 30-yard touchdown.

USL regained the lead on the first drive of the fourth quarter. Mitchell drove the Ragin‘ Cajuns to NIU’s 19-yard line where Lemoine kicked his second field goal of the contest from 36 yards out to make the score 20-17 with 13:22 left.

NIU took the ensuing kickoff and drove to USL’s 28-yard line where the Huskies faced a fourth-and-seven. NIU decided to forego the potential game-tying field goal and went for the first down.

“I felt that the line of scrimmage was too far away for the long field goal,” said Pettibone. A reverse to split-end Mark Clancy was stopped by USL for no gain and the Cajuns took over on their own 28-yard line with 6:35 remaining.

After giving up runs of eight and 10 yards, the Huskie defense stiffened, allowing only four yards on the next three plays and forcing USL to punt the ball away.

Steve Rodgers’ eight-yard punt return gave NIU the ball on its own 23-yard line with 4:06 left and the outcome of the hard-fought contest on the line.

The Huskies drove to USL’s 25-yard line where they were faced with a fourth-and-four with 48 seconds remaining. Robinson sprinted around left end and dove for the first down marker. “I didn’t think we had it,” said Robinson. “It looked like we were short.”

The measurement, however, showed that NIU had made the first down with inches to spare. The Huskies punched the ball to the 14-yard line where they again faced a fourth-down situation.

“We were not even thinking about a tie,” said Pettibone explaining why the Huskies chose not to try a game-tying field goal. “I knew I couldn’t face these guys in the lockeroom, as hard as they have worked, if we settled for a tie. We were going to go in and score and win the game.”

Robinson pitched to halfback Mike Strasser who slid around right end for a seven-yard gain that gave NIU a first-and-goal on the seven-yard line with six seconds remaining.

After an incomplete pass intended for Strasser, Robinson carried NIU’s game-winning score, and any NIU hopes for a bowl bid, into the end zone.