Photo-finish leaves NIU beaten at wire

By Dan Moran

You know there’s been some excitement when a game is decided after it’s over.

But that’s how it ended Saturday before 7,325 fans at Huskie Stadium. The NIU football team’s 21-20 loss to Cal State-Fullerton was not finalized until Keith Hurley was forced out of bounds just short of a two-point conversion that would have won the game. And all this happened with 0:00 on the game clock.

The Huskies had set up the do-or-die conversion attempt by driving from their own 39 to the CSUF 1, where fullback Kent Iwema barreled in as the final second ticked off the clock.

ead coach Jerry Pettibone was asked if he had considered going for a tie instead of a win.

“There was no question we’d go for two,” Pettibone said. “We kicked a field goal against Northwestern (to earn a 16-16 tie) because Northern had never tied or beaten a Big 10 team before. But here, there was no question we’d go for two. That (a point-after attempt) never went through my mind.”

So the Huskies lined up for the two-point conversion. The ball rested on the left hash, and Pettibone said the call was a “two-run option, our bread-and-butter play”—a sweep that can go to either side, depending on the defensive set and reaction.

Quarterback Marshall Taylor took the snap and swept left. With Hurley sprinting to his left, Taylor had the option to take it himself or pitch to Hurley. Taylor pitched, and Hurley ran out of room quickly, although he managed to tightrope to within breathing distance of the goal line.

Titan outside linebacker Chris Wright, who came up to confront the sweep, said Hurley was “very close—about a step away” from getting in. Wright added that if Taylor had “kept the ball and ran, he would have had a blocker in front of me.”

“When I look back on it, I feel like maybe I should have taken it myself,” Taylor said. “It’s really hard to tell what I should have done. It’s one of those close calls. You can always say after the game, ‘Wow, I should have ducked it up and took it in.'”

Taylor said NIU swept to the short side because CSUF was stacked right. Success depended on a sharp cut, but rainy conditions Friday night and early Saturday made cuts nearly impossible, especially on the sidelines where runoff water collects.

“I’m convinced if we were playing on a dry field we would have scored,” said Pettibone, who later added “our offense will always be the type that will not be as effective on a wet field. We’re an east-west offense. The majority of our plays go from sideline to sideline. I feel it (the weather) did have an effect.”

The Huskies were forced into a north-south game in the first half, as Cal Sate staked out a 14-3 lead. The Titans beat NIU in every offensive category in the half, with one score coming on an impressive opening drive and the other being set up by a blocked punt.

The Huskies came out after halftime and staged a 16-play, 67-yard drive to the CSUF 5, where John Ivanic missed a field goal into the wind. But NIU took a fumble on the Titans’ ensuing possession and converted it into eight points on Iwema’s first one-yard plunge of the day and Marshall Taylor’s two-point conversion run.

An Ivanic field goal with 4:53 left in the fourth quarter briefly tied it at 14, but the Titans struck right back with an 11-play, 64-yard drive to go up 21-14. Cal Sate had converted a fourth-and-one play at the NIU 4 to fuel its drive.

After the Huskies’ last-second, or rather, no-second heroics had failed, Pettibone said he hurt for his players.

“It tears your heart out when you see them lose a game they should have won, and worked so hard for,” Pettibone said.