Huskies roll past Leathernecks

By Dave Tuley

Good things come to those who score first.

NIU, now 4-4-1, took an early lead Saturday and held on by shutting out WIU in the second half to win 29-14 before a Parents’ Day crowd of 21,863 at Huskie Stadium.

Red-shirt freshman kicker John Ivanic opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal after cornerback Randall Townsel intercepted his first of two passes on the Leathernecks’ opening drive. It was the fourth time in as many wins the Huskies have scored first. In NIU’s five other games—the four losses and the tie with Northwestern—the other team scored first.

The Huskies have had troubles early in several games this year and NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone said that was one of the coaching staff’s main concerns this week in practice.

“We put a lot of pressure on our team this week,” Pettibone said. “The players understood what it took to play hard all game long.”

Townsel also played an important role in the key moment of the game when he grabbed a Paul Singer pass in the Huskie end zone for his second interception of the day.

NIU was ahead 20-14 at the time, but the Leathernecks were threatening late in the third quarter on a 14-play, 73-yard drive which ate up 6:27 on the clock. Singer tried forcing the ball into the left corner of the end zone and Townsel was able to step in front of the receiver.

WIU coach Bruce Craddock said that drive was the Leathernecks’ downfall because they could have taken the lead or at least closed the gap.

“If we only get three we’re still in the ballgame,” Craddock said. “And we came away with nothing. That really hurts.

Besides being a thief, Townsel was also a victim as he was beat on a 33-yard touchdown by Don Beebe on the second play of the second quarter. The score gave WIU its only lead of the day at 7-3.

“I was looking for a short pass and it didn’t come so I got beat taking a chance,” Townsel said. “Every defensive back is going to get beat deep sometime. That’s what I told myself afterward and I was able to come back.”

Meanwhile, the NIU offense picked up 355 yards rushing and 400 overall without the services of All-America candidate Ted Karamanos, who sat out with a slightly separated right shoulder. The Huskie fullbacks combined for more than half (180) of the rushing total with strong running inside.

“They were playing us soft in the middle, trying to protect the outside,” said the second-time-around fullback Kent Iwema, who led all rushers with 106 yards on 11 carries. The senior added, “With the loss last week the seniors got together Sunday and we decided to take control and not be flat going into any more games.”

Quarterback Marshall Taylor agreed it was the experienced players who made the difference this week.

“(Center) Dan Graham and (tackle) John Sugrue took over because they’re seniors,” he said.

NIU halfback Rodney Taylor, who also scored on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter, set up the Huskies’ first touchdown with a 42-yard punt return. The run made Taylor the all-time NIU punt returner with 512 career yards. He is also two yards short of the single-season mark.

“I was sitting in my room last night, and my roommate said I hadn’t had a good one in a long time. I really wanted to get one today,” Taylor said.

“Their punt return really hurt us. I don’t know if they scored on it, but there was so much real estate exchanged it puts you back,” Craddock said.

The Huskies made a bid to return to the nation’s leader in turnover ratio by playing turnover-free football on offense and picking off three passes and recovering a fumble.

“One (of the key factors of the game) was our four turnovers. They didn’t turn the ball over once. We thought we earned two fumbles. We didn’t get either one of them, but the officials didn’t whistle them that way. You can’t beat good people when you turn the ball over.”

On the defeat’s effect to WIU’s Division I-AA playoff hopes, Craddock said, “At-large we have a chance at 8-3. Our chances would have been a lot better at 9-2, obviously. Our two losses—besides the one in our league—were to Division I schools. They were respectable losses, both of them. You never know. It’s up to the selection committee.”