Pettibone pleased by senior leaders

By Dan Moran

They called it the killer instinct before Sylvester Stallone introduced the phrase “eye of the tiger” to the American lexicon.

Of course, Jerry Pettibone’s favorite term for competitive spirit is “they’ve got the fire in their eyes.” Motivation by any other name still being as inspiring, Pettibone made sure his squad hit the field flying Saturday against Western Illinois.

“We beat an excellent team on Saturday,” Pettibone said at Monday’s weekly Huskie Club Luncheon of the 29-14 win. “Before the game, I challenged the seniors to be the leaders, to go out and make sure the younger players understood what they had to do in practice to get ready. We had the best week of practice we’ve had all year.”

Media, boosters and Huskie coaches alike have wondered out loud this year why NIU spun its wheels in the early going of many a 1987 game. But, thanks to a work-sharing program between the coaches and seniors, the Huskies managed to light a fire under the players before hitting the field against the Leathernecks.

“I had asked that they (seniors) talk to them (other players) before each of the practices, and we’ll continue to do that,” Pettibone said of the team’s elder statesmen. “They also asked me if they could talk before the game. I had mentioned to several of the seniors that it was very important that they had things to say after the coaches left the locker room.”

What transpired in the Huskie den before the game reads like a Saturday night revival meeting. Pettibone said co-captain Tony Savegnago came up to him “with fire in his eyes and said, ‘Let’s do it now,’ and I said O.K. So we had our team prayer and the coaches left the locker room.”

While Pettibone refrained from providing excerpts, he would say “they were talking rather loud. I recognized the voices, and they were a lot of the seniors.”

And so, Pettibone acknowledged, the Huskies managed to run out on the turf with an edge they had left inside with their street clothes in contests past. They scored first to gain the upper hand, and added interceptions at key junctures to keep their spirits up.

andall Townsel’s two pickoffs Saturday not only kept NIU tied for the national lead in interceptions at 21 with Michigan State and Oklahoma, but it also ranked Townsel 16th among the nation’s defensive backs in intercepts.

The Huskie steals, along with a top ranking in fewest interceptions allowed (tied for second with the Sooners and UCLA), gives NIU a plus-1.67 turnover ratio, a statistic Pettibone said “is a good indication of playing well on both sides of the ball.”

Of course, Huskie wins signal a cornucopia of food giveaways, and Monday found Pettibone handing another designer cookie to soccer coach Willy Roy and Roy responding with an apple pie, “because apples are out of season.”