Huskies look to spoil Broncos’ MAC title hopes, seniors ready to gear up one last time

By James Krause

DeKALB — The football team may not have a conference championship or bowl game after Tuesday night, but it can end its year with a win over the Western Michigan University Broncos.

The Huskies were eliminated from postseason contention Tueaday in a 45-17 loss to the Eastern Michigan University Eagles. Head Coach Thomas Hammock said the Huskies struggled in several areas that gave EMU easier opportunities to score, chief among them being NIU’s four turnovers.

“We put our defense in a tough spot by turning the ball over,” Hammock said. “We gave [the Eagles] offense some short fields, and they had some of their wide receivers make great plays.”

Hammock’s first season at the helm of NIU football was far from a lost season in his eyes, despite not qualifying for a bowl or conference championship appearance. The coach said he and the staff have looked beyond their record of 4-7 to see what needs to improve in the future.

“Anytime you walk into a situation for the first time, you’re in a constant evaluation of everything you’re doing,” Hammock said. “I knew going through spring ball there were some areas we needed to improve. I was hoping we’d be able to stay healthy and maximize this year, but it gave us the opportunity to evaluate the program and find some areas we can help upgrade.”

The Huskies will meet a Broncos team that, at 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the Mid-American Conference, is hoping to seal their own spot in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit Dec. 7.

Hammock said talent has helped the Broncos become a tough team to beat, with senior running back LeVante Bellamy leading the nation with 21 rushing touchdowns.

“They have skill at the positions. You need skill to win,” Hammock said. “Our job is to minimize our mistakes and do what it takes to win.”

Beyond trying to play spoiler to WMU, who beat NIU 28-21 Nov. 20, 2018 in the season finale, the Huskies’ players will try to give 17 seniors a win to end their collegiate careers. Prior to kickoff Tuesday night, a ceremony will be held at Huskie Stadium to celebrate those who will play their last game there.

“It’s important to send them out on a good note and show them they’re appreciated,” Tre Harbison, redshirt junior running back, said. “They’ve shown a tremendous amount of leadership, and it’s important to me and to the other underclassmen to end their career here on a good note.”

Hammock said that seniors will be giving speeches throughout the week leading up to the game, with underclassmen having their last opportunity to take advice from their graduating teammates.

“It’s been a long journey,” Marcus Kelly, redshirt senior defensive tackle, said. “In some ways [my first game] feels like it was a thousand years ago, but it also feels like it was yesterday. That’s the thing I want to tell the younger guys. I was always told ‘You blink, and it’s going to be over,’ and I was always like ‘Yeah, alright. I got four years.’ And then it happens.”

Kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.