Darby makes debut as Huskie Running Man

By Tom Clegg

Who was that guy playing quarterback for NIU Saturday night?

He’s James Darby, the Huskie football team’s answer to the “Running Man.”

Darby got the start when doctors advised NIU coaches that Marshall Taylor’s jaw, injured last week, could be injured further if he played. Taylor is expected to start next Saturday at Wisconsin.

While most of the crowd of 13,572 who attended NIU’s 14-10 win over Middle Tennessee State were surprised to see Taylor on the sideline, they were dumbfounded that it took nearly four quarters before Darby attempted his first pass.

When that first pass came—a long sideline toss to Mark Clancy, who had broken towards the middle of the field—and dropped harmlessly out of bounds, most of the crowd stood and cheered with unbridled sarcasm.

“Yeah, I heard it,” Darby said of the derisive applause. “I smiled because it was our first pass. Yeah, they liked that.”

Darby pointed out that he would have liked to pass more, too. It was not his decision to run the ball exclusively for three-fourths of the contest. It was the decision of the Huskie coaching staff, including head coach Jerry Pettibone, who explained that Darby had not shown much consistency throwing the ball in practice.

“Maybe coach thinks I’m a week behind schedule, but if things come down to me playing next week, our passing game will be there,” Darby said.

The junior college tansfer from Cisco, Texas was making his first start in a Division I-A game and said it was a new experience.

“I didn’t play the best game I could, but I’m happy,” Darby said. “That was my first (major) college game and it’s a different story.

“You know, you come from a West-Texas junior college, you might have three (hundred) or 500 people in the stands, all cowboys, they don’t say nothin‘. Then you come here, you got 30,000.”

A slight overestimate, to be sure, but Darby had other things on his mind Saturday, like the Blue Raiders’ stunting linebackers.

“A stunting team is gonna take chances,” Darby said. “They’re a gambling defense, and the first half they were gambling and we couldn’t take advantage of it.”

The Blue Raiders held NIU to just 80 yards of (what else) rushing offense in the first half, but after a few halftime adjustments, the Huskies broke through for 11 second-half points. Six came on senior halfback Rodney Taylor’s 12-yard run with 11:27 to go in the game.

“Little Taylor, anytime he touches the ball he’s got a chance to do something,” Darby said. “We needed the touchdown so we went to him. Ro Taylor. He’s really something.”

Bouyed by the confidence that comes from winning, Darby said he felt good about the Huskies’ chances next week at Wisconsin.

“We can do it (beat Wisconsin), but we’re not really looking ahead just yet,” he said. “Tonight we’re just gonna enjoy this win, have a good time, then we’ll worry about Wisconsin tomorrow.”