Huskies to play in Boca Raton Bowl

By James Krause

The NIU football team will try to close their season with a win in the Boca Raton Bowl against the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers Tuesday.

The Huskies will be riding the high of a comeback 30-29 victory Nov. 30 in Detroit against the Buffalo Bulls which won them the Mid-American Conference championship.

Head Coach Rod Carey said his team is looking to celebrate as a group one last time before many seniors graduate.

“When we got back [after the MAC Championship game], I said ‘This will be the last go around for this team,’” Carey said. “They really care about each other, and they want to go out and [have] that opportunity to go compete again. To have the opportunity to go sing in the locker room, that’s real to these guys.”

This will be the second trip to the Boca Raton Bowl for Carey during his time at NIU. Carey said he’s excited for the opportunity to redeem himself and the program after dropping the first ever Boca Raton Bowl to Marshall in 2014 by a final score of 52-23.

“We’ve been there before; we love the bowl,” Carey said. “We loved everything about it except for the game.”

The game will be the final one in the college careers of many seniors, including offensive lineman Max Scharping who has started 53 games for the Huskies.

Scharping talked about the bowl game being a chance to put on the red and black one last time and celebrate this season.

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“It’ll definitely be emotional,” Scharping said. “This is just a celebration of the full season that we’ve had. You get the chance to play with your team one last time against a good opponent in a great place to play down in Florida. “

NIU will be facing the Conference USA champions, UAB Blazers, who remind Carey a lot of his own team. UAB is fourth in the nation in sack with 43, while NIU leads the nation in the same category with 50.

“They are a mirror image of us,” Carey said. “They want to run the ball, stop the run, be great in the kicking game and win the turnover battle. They attack on defense and, offensively, they play complimentary football.”

On the offensive side of the ball, NIU’s defense will work to contain sophomore running back Spencer Brown who earned First Team All-Conference USA Honors with 1,152 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

UAB will also be monitoring their offense, particularly the condition of quarterback AJ Erdley who has been listed as questionable to play due to a shoulder injury, according to a Dec. 2 USA Today report.

The UAB football program is in it’s second season back after being shut down in 2014 due to budget issues at the university. In those two seasons, Head Coach Bill Clark has led the Blazers to back-to-back bowl games for the first time in program history.

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Carey praised Clark and the team for their work and perseverance over the past four years in bringing back the program.

“The job Coach Clark and his staff has done is remarkable,” Carey said. “We have a ton of respect for them. Now, after getting to know [the Blazers] on film and reading some of the things on them, what a job.”

With the added time between the championship game and the bowl game, Scharping said the team had a chance to go back to the basics in terms of preparation while also preparing for the Blazers.

“That’s the nice thing about bowl preparation, you’re really able to get back to your roots,” Scharping said. “You’re able to focus on yourself and focus on helping develop the young guys–That’s mainly what we’ve been focusing on.”

The team left DeKalb for Florida Friday, attending several events organized by the bowl itself. The game will kickoff 6 p.m. local time Tuesday from FAU Stadium. The game will be shown nationwide on ESPN and ESPN+.