‘Big Mo’ plays key role in Huskies’ narrow loss

By Dan Moran

YPSILANTI, Mich.—When George Bush won the Iowa caucus during the 1980 presidential campaign, he bragged about having something called “Big Mo.”

“Big Mo,” of course, is not a stomach disorder or a bad hangover. It is momentum, that mystic quality that allows a competitor to rise above his opponent.

But momentum eventually put Ronald Reagan in the White House, while Bush ended up being something called “vice president.”

And on Saturday night, the Eastern Michigan Hurons stole the momentum at just the right moment to squeak out their one-point victory.

Glennard Smith’s 56-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter did more than set up EMU’s winning score. Smith’s run also brought NIU crashing back to earth after a 17-play, 79-yard scoring drive. It took the momentum away from the Huskies who had held it during the entire second half.

The latter fact became obvious after Gary Patton’s two-point conversion pass put EMU up 32-31. The Huskies had 1:41 to get into field goal range from their own 29, but they were unable to gain a single yard after piling up 204 of them in the third and fourth quarters.

Other than the Hurons late histrionics, the game was evenly divided momentum-wise—the Hurons had it in the first half, the Huskies in the second.

“We were able to play well in spurts, but then we had lapses,” said NIU head coach Jerry Pettibone. “You have lapses against a good team like Eastern Michigan and you’re going to pay for it.”

Actually, fate was ridiculously kind to EMU in the first two quarters. Two Huron touchdowns and a field goal would have been pipe dreams if it had not been for the quirks of a bouncing football.

On the game’s opening drive, EMU raced deep into NIU territory in just three plays. Then Patton fumbled a pitch on second-and-nine at the NIU 16. The ball fell out of his hands and bounced straight back up to him. Sixteen yards later, it was Hurons 7, Huskies 0.

In the second quarter, NIU linebacker Mike Manson tried to kill another Huron drive by cutting neatly in front of a Huron receiver on a pass to the end zone. The ball bounced off Manson’s chest, and the carom fell out of his diving reach. A field goal on the next play made it 17-7, Hurons.

Patton later resumed his dribbling act. With 1:25 to go in the half, he took another pitch and again dropped it at his feet. And, once again, the ball jumped right back into his arms. It kept alive a touchdown drive that made it 24-14 at halftime.

“Yeah, I can dribble like this—through my legs,” Patton said of his yo-yo act. “It just took a perfect bounce, which doesn’t usually happen when you put a football on the ground. It happened twice, and I was shocked. It’s like ‘Wow, lightning strikes twice.'”

NIU quarterback Marshall Taylor, who saw the Hurons recover four of their own fumbles, said later the Huron’s good fortune was more like “an NIU jinx.”

But the Huskies turned the tide of the game in the second half, outscoring the Hurons 17-0 before the final drama.

“They had the momentum early and we were able to come back,” Pettibone said. “I was very proud of the way our team came back in the second half from being behind 10 points.”

“I coached terribly on offense in the second half,” said EMU head coach Jim Harkema. “We needed to control the ball. We feel we didn’t play well on offense in the second and third quarters.”

Freshman saftey Kevin Cassidy grabbed his first career interception to get the Huskies rolling to their first third-quarter score. In the fourth quarter, Manson stuffed a reverse 13 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a defensive stand before the Huskies’ final touchdown drive.

In the end, though, fate had tossed the biggest cookies to the home team. The Huskies lost “Big Mo” just in time to lose the game.