Harbison at his best against Zips, pummels Akron defense


Christopher Perez Jr. (left), senior offensive lineman, and Tre Harbison, redshirt junior running back, celebrate a touchdown during NIU’s 49-0 victory over Akron at Huskie Stadium.

By Mike Knapp

DeKALB — Through the first four games of the season, yards were hard to come by for Tre Harbison. The last four games have been a different story for the redshirt junior running back.

Harbison rushed for just 223 yards in four non-conference games, but when the Huskies moved into their Mid-American Conference play, Harbison found another gear.

Harbison, who posted two 100-yard rushing efforts in his first three league games, found the nasty weather brought on by Tropical Storm Olga and the soft University of Akron defense to his liking. The redshirt junior carried the ball 31 times for 158 yards and two touchdowns to pace a powerful rushing attack that led the Huskies to a 49-0 Homecoming win.

Harbison’s efforts gave him an even 500 yards in MAC play on 104 carries and a 4.8 yard average, and he has scored eight times in that span. Saturday he fell just 11 yards short of his career-high of 169 yards, set Nov. 1 in the Huskies’ 36-26 win in Akron.

He also crossed a personal milestone during the game against the Zips, becoming the 19th player in program history to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards.

While the running game has shown improvement as each week has gone on, Harbison’s personal improvement has been a little more mental than physical.

{{tncms-inline alignment=”center” content=”<p>“It’s good to get back on a roll, but the beginning of the season was more my fault,” Harbison said. “I had to focus on the small things. It was more listening to [Head Coach Thomas Hammock] and doing the extra film work to know the ins and outs of every play.”</p>” id=”a37c73f6-def6-40c1-87e0-ddc73383e1d4″ style-type=”quote” title=”Tre Harbison” type=”relcontent” width=”full”}}

With the predicted rainy conditions, and starting senior quarterback Ross Bowers’ inactivity due to a concussion suffered in last week’s game at the Miami University – Ohio, the Huskies’ running game had to be on point.

In the end the Huskies had 62 carries for 274 yards while picking up 15 of their 21 first downs on the ground.

The running game was so effective, the Huskies ran the ball on 24 consecutive plays from scrimmage. The run plays lasted from the beginning of the second quarter to the middle of the third quarter, and the streak was snapped when redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Childers connected with Mitchell Brinkman, redshirt junior tight end, from 18 yards out to stretch the lead to 28-0.

The Huskies are averaging 176 yards per game in MAC play, which helped the offense produce 132 points over the last four games, the fourth-most in the league.

“Our offensive line has done a great job over the last few weeks,” Hammock said. “Now it’s just getting the timing with the backs. We have to teach the backs the intention of the play, then how to execute it. For us it starts up front, the backs finding it, then making them miss or breaking a tackle. We talk about [yards after contact], and I bet we had a lot of them [Saturday].”

Harbison left the game after three quarters and was one of six Huskies to record a carry in the game. Jordan Nettles, redshirt sophomore running back, had 71 yards on 12 carries, while Childers netted 36 yards.

With the running game so locked in, Childers was in game-management mode and only threw the ball nine times. He was plenty efficient in the passing game though, completing seven of those throws for 71 yards and three scores.

“They are a physical team,” Akron Head Coach Tom Arth said. “They play physically inside; they are aggressive coming off the ball and get on you quickly. We expected that and prepared for it. We struggled to get their ball carriers on the ground.”

The Huskies, now 3-5 overall, head on the road to take on Central Michigan University. Kickoff will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.