Pettibone pleased with season

By Thom Gippert

The playing days are over this year, but the accolades are just coming in.

This year’s 9-2 Huskie football team gave the NIU fans something to remember and a lot to look forward to.

Even though the Huskies will not participate in a bowl game this year, they have put themselves in a prime position to be considered for one next year. NIU uses the case of Tulsa as an example. Tulsa had an outstanding season last year and was overlooked by bowl representatives. This year, it managed a 6-5 record and will playing in the Independence Bowl because the team established itself the year before.

The 1989 NIU team established itself as a group of individuals that can compete against the big-boys of college football.

Fresh off a season opening win against Cal-State Fullerton, the Huskies went out to Lincoln, Nebraska to battle the Huskers of Nebraska, a perennial top 10 team.

The Huskies fought their way to a 17-17 halftime score in what surprised viewers who saw the Huskies get some nation-wide publicity. While Nebraska eventually won the game 48-17, the Huskies left Lincoln with confidence and respect.

From there, the Huskies went on a three-game winning streak as they downed Kansas State, Western Illinois and Southern Illinois, respectively.

NIU took its 4-1 record to Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La. That was a day the Huskies would like to forget. Not only did the Bulldogs beat NIU, but the Huskies were manhandled. That game marked the second year in a row that NIU lost a game in Cajun Country.

The Huskies would not lose another game, however.

NIU went on a five-game winning streak by beating UNLV, Temple, Southwestern Louisiana, Toledo and Cincinnati.

The biggest win of those games came against Southwestern Louisiana in DeKalb. The previous year, NIU traveled to Lafayette, La. to take on the same Cajun team and came back with a 45-0 shalacking. This year’s 23-20 last-second win for NIU was sweet revenge at the “Doghouse”.

NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone was disappointed NIU will not be going to a bowl, but he felt good with the position of the program.

“I was disappointed that we didn’t get more of a serious consideration for a bowl, but I also feel good that we did a lot of positive things to bring national recognition to our program,” Pettibone said.

The Huskies had some tremendous individual efforts this season highlighted by the play of junior quarterback Stacey Robinson.

The “Wishbone Wizard II” set various records running the football, including his 281-yard performance against Cincinnati along with his season total 1,443 yards, which makes him the No. 6 overall rusher in the nation.

Robinson also scored an NIU record of 19 rushing touchdowns and threw for another five touchdowns.

“It’s been an unbelieveable season for Stacey. He prepared himself to take advantage of an opportunity and he took advantage of it as well as any one-young man could ask,” Pettibone said.

Sophomore Adam Dach had another good year running the football from his fullback position. The Byron native rushed for 714 yards on 164 carries. To Dach’s credit, those numbers are down a bit from the last season, but many teams sketched defensive schemes to stop the 6-foot, 210-pound fullback.

On defense, middle linebacker Ron Delisi had another outstanding year anchoring the Huskie defense. One of the lone seniors, Delisi ended his career being fourth on the all-time tackling list with 437 tackles.

The defensive line will be one area the Huskies will be hurt by graduation. The loss of seniors Ted Hennings, Phil Bucaro and Rodney Akis weakens the depth.

With the first five years of the Jerry Pettibone era over, the head Huskie thinks the next five years can be something to watch.

“What we have been able to accomplish in our first five years has put us in a position to accomplish even more exciting things in the future. We’ve established a solid foundation and the outlook is bright,” said Pettibone who is 27-27-1 as a head coach at NIU.

NIU recently received some votes in the United Press International and Associated Press polls, but that was not enough to pave the way to a post-season game. Pettibone believes the reason NIU was passed over was because the Huskies are not a household name, but he believes this season the Huskies have improved their marketability.

NIU coaches have a lot to look forward to next year. The Huskies will return 21 of their top 22 players on offense and only lose four starters on defense.

The schedule for next season is somewhat more difficult. On the the slate for next year are Nebraska, Toledo, Northwestern, Akron, East Carolina and Sothwestern Louisiana all on the road. The home games consist of Eastern Illinois, Kansas State, Fresno State, Murray State and Arkansas State. The schedule is subject to change.

Pettibone felt this year’s team reached at least one of its goals that was set at the beginning of the year.

“One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the season was that we were going to be the best football team Northern Illinois has ever had and I really feel we accomplished that this year,” Pettibone said.