Defense rallies NIU to 17-3 victory

By Tom Clegg

Ho hum, another Huskie win.

Despite playing a lackluster first half, the NIU football team eventually made it look easy as it disposed of Southwest Missouri State 17-3 Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

A Parents’ Day—and Pork Day—crowd of 14,127 saw NIU improve its record to 4-1 this season while the Bears fell to 2-3.

NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone said “it feels great” to be 4-1. Before the season, NIU had hoped to improve on last year’s 5-5-1 finish, and the fourth-year NIU coach was quick to share the credit for the Huskies’ fast start in 1988.

“It’s a compliment to the players and coaches,” he said. “We’ve told these players for four years if they do things right—go to class, bust their tails, work hard—it will pay off.”

The defense busted its tails when it counted most, stopping the Bears on the fourth down at the NIU 1-yard line with the Huskies up 7-3 late in the third quarter. NIU held the No. 2 rushing team in Division I-AA to 195 yards running and a total of 266 yards.

Southwest Missouri found itself in a first-and-goal situation from the NIU 6-yard line, but a two-yard sack by defensive end Cary Caliendo and a tackle for no gain by cornerback Brett Tucker on fourth down swung the momentum toward the Huskies.

“We were conceding the pass,” Tucker said of his touchdown-saving stop. “If they throw a pass, they’re going to score. It was the coaches’ call, and we did the job.”

Tucker also picked off a pass—he leads the team with two this year—and Caliendo picked up his third, fourth and fifth QB sacks of the season, tying him with Phil Foley for team-high honors.

Starting from their own 1-yard line after Tucker’s clutch tackle, the Huskies put together a 13-play, 99-yard drive which culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Marshall Taylor to tight end Claude Royster. Following John Ivanic’s 35th consecutive extra point, NIU led 14-3, and with just over 14 minutes remaining, the issue had been decided.

“That had to take its toll,” Pettibone said. “First, for our defense to stop them and then to go 99 yards had to take the wind out of their sails.”

During that lengthy drive, Huskie fans got a glimpse of what could be a promising future.

Taylor, after picking up a first down on a nine-yard run, suffered a slight injury to his left ankle. His replacement, sophomore Stacey Robinson, wasted no time acquainting himself with the Southwest Missouri defense. On his first play, Robinson got crushed by a Bear lineman after handing off to halfback Rodney Taylor.

Taylor picked up six yards on the run, and two plays later, after Robinson had run for eight and 18 yards on consecutive carries, Marshall Taylor came back into the game. On his second play after returning to the field, Marshall Taylor burned the SMSU defense with a 17-yard burst to the Bears’ 32-yard line.

Taylor finished with 102 yards on 16 carries, his best running performance since breaking his left ankle in the season finale last year at Nevada-Las Vegas. Taylor also passed for 91 yards, completing 8-of-13 attempts with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

NIU accumulated 368 yards of total offense, with freshman Adam Dach picking up 71 more rushing yards on 13 carries. Halfback Mike Strasser, who has seen limited action this year, ran for 22-yards on four attempts, including a 14-yard dash that set up NIU’s second TD.

Freshman Eugene Edmond led the Huskie receiving corps, catching two passes for 33 yards out of the backfield. Fellow halfback Rodney Taylor caught three balls for 29 yards.

Southwest Missouri started the scoring with 6:37 left in the first quarter on Chris Potthast’s 36-yard field goal. NIU took the lead for good when Taylor hit Kurt Cassidy in the end zone on third-and-six from the SMSU nine-yard line.

Royster’s TD made it 14-3 NIU, and Ivanic finished the scoring with a 36-yard field goal with less than ten minutes remaining in the game. Ivanic’s kick made him 9-for-10 on field goals this season with his only miss coming on a block by Middle Tennessee State three weeks ago.