North meets West in gridiron battle

By Eric Burt

9-0. That is the record of the Western Illinois Leathernecks.

The ones that are ranked number two in the nation among Division I-AA teams.

The same Leathernecks that will face the NIU Huskies Saturday—their only Division I-A opponent all year—for a 1:05 p.m. game at Huskie Stadium.

The same Huskies that have given heartbreak and also received heartbreak, most recently suffering a 18-17 defeat against Ball State, which lowered NIU’s record to 5-4.

“We should be 7-2 right now,” sophomore fullback Steve Henriksen said. “Except for the Southwestern Louisiana game (a 45-0 loss), all of our losses have been close games.”

The Huskies don’t see WIU as an impossible foe. NIU coach Jerry Pettibone said his team is ready. “When you look back at a season, how you finished stands out more than how you started,” Pettibone said. “If you finish strong, you’re seen as winners. We’ve worked to accomplish a lot of things, and we’re not done yet.”

According to Coach Pettibone, halfback Rodney Taylor’s availability for action won’t be known until Saturday, but he more than likely will be out with the left forearm bruise that ended his 29 game starting streak last weekend against Ball State. Split end Mark Clancy has not practiced all week because of a knee sprain, and defensive tackle Ted Hennings, who is also suffering from a knee sprain, has practiced but not at full speed.

WIU’s top offensive performer, quarterback Paul Singer, passed the 2,000-yard plateau last weekend against Illinois State even though he was held to his lowest total of the season (137 yds). With each yard he accumulates, Singer adds to his WIU career record which now stands at 7,346 yards. He has also thrown for 18 touchdowns and has a .560 completion percentage this season.

The Leathernecks also have shown a strong defensive front. Last Saturday against ISU, the Leathernecks allowed 173 total yards and seven first downs. WIU recorded three sacks, two fumble recoveries, three fumble causes, two interceptions and eight deflections.

Coach Pettibone not only sees Singer as a threat but also WIU’s rushing attack, which is better than in previous years. “Western throws more than Ball State, and they run well, too,” Pettibone said. “They also have a different style defense than we are used to seeing. We may have to change some of our blocking schemes.”

WIU coach Bruce Craddock, in his sixth season as head coach, had high praise for the Huskies. “We’re going to be facing an excellent wishbone team under coach Pettibone. In order for us to win up there, we’ll have to play a nearly perfect game—they have just so much talent and coach Pettibone is a master of the wishbone,” Craddock said.

Craddock also had some praise for fullback Adam Dach. “(Dach), who’s just a freshman, will break all of their (NIU’s) school records before he’s finished.”

Dach is second in the nation among Division I-A freshman running backs with 657 yards.

“We still have challenges and goals to meet this season,” Pettibone said. “One of those is Western Illinois.”