Huskies return home for ‘Necks Gateway champions a fierce rival for NIU

By Thom Gippert

For Western Illinois University, it’s a game of redemption. For NIU it’s a chance to show the home crowd just what the Huskies are made of.

Saturday evening at 6:35 the Leathernecks and Huskies will clash at Huskie Stadium in what should be a knock-down-drag-out battle.

The Huskies (2-1) are coming off a convincing victory over Kansas State last weekend, while WIU (3-1) is also coming off a win over Delaware State.

Last season WIU came to DeKalb with an unblemished 10-0 record. But on a drizzly afternoon the Huskies were the victors with a 16-6 win. That turned out to be WIU’s only regular season loss.

What Saturday’s game means for NIU is that the Huskies will have the opportunity to show the home folks just how good this year’s team is. This is a team that gave nationally-ranked Nebraska a run for their money and was victorious in games against Cal-State Fullerton and Kansas State, but WIU has always been a tough match and things shouldn’t change this year.

WIU lost four players to the pro’s from last year’s team and the loss that hurts the most is quarterback Paul Singer. The Atlanta Falcon draft-pick threw for a school record 8,257 yards during his stay at WIU. This year, senior Gene Benhart is taking the snaps and has fared well so far. In last week’s game, Benhart was good for 224 aerial yards. Benhart’s favorite receivers are wide-outs Steve Williams and Pablo Luis who have combined for 26 receptions this year.

The Leatherneck strong suit, however, is the defense where senior linebacker Armie Gasbarro leads the charge with 49 tackles.

NIU comes into Saturday with a hot offense. The wishbone produced 37 points last weekend and has looked sharp throughout the season. The only change for NIU’s offense will have Brett Schroeder replacing Tyrone Isaac at left halfback, but Isaac should see plenty of action.

The Huskies have had a good week of practice and the attitude of the team remains up-beat.

“We’re a confident team and confidence brings out the best. The only way to be confident is to work hard and strive to be the best, which we have,” head coach Jerry Pettibone said of his Huskies.

WIU, a Division I-AA team, is a member of the Gateway Conference and are the defending conference champions. This will be the 35th meeting between the schools and NIU leads the series 19-14-1 and has won the last two. WIU is currently ranked 17th in this week’s Division I-AA Top 20 poll.

This will be NIU’s second home game this year, the first being the Labor Day weekend match-up when NIU defeated Cal-State Fullerton 26-17.

Coach Pettibone feels that playing at home will have a positive effect on his team.

“It means a lot to us to see the students here. The students wearing the red and black and having the support of the student body would mean a lot to us. This is the student’s team,” Pettibone said.

A big crowd is anticipated as ticket sales are brisk. Saturday night also marks Business-Agriculture, Soybean, and Band Night.