NIU football gears up for ‘dogfight’ vs. Rockets


Redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare rushes the ball Saturday in the game against Miami (Ohio).

By Frank Gogola

Football and the Toledo Rockets face off in a mid-week matchup with the winner positioning themselves in the driver’s seat to win the MAC West.

The Huskies (7-2, 4-1 MAC) host the Rockets (6-3, 5-0 MAC) 7 p.m. today at Huskie Stadium.

The Huskies have dominated the Rockets of late, winning their last four games against Toledo by a combined score of 194-131.

“Every time we play Toledo it’s going to be a battle, it’s going to be a dogfight, and this year’s going to be no different,” said Michael Santacaterina, redshirt senior outside linebacker. “It’s going to be a four-quarter game. They’re a great team. They’re going to come in here with a lot of juice, a lot of energy, ready to play, and we’ll be ready for them.”

The Rockets expect to have sophomore quarterback Logan Woodside starting, said Toledo head coach Matt Campbell in the MAC’s weekly teleconference Monday. Woodside suffered a leg injury Tuesday against the Kent State Golden Flashes and will be a game-time decision along with center Greg Mancz, who suffered a knee injury in the same game.

If Woodside isn’t ready to go, redshirt freshman Michael Julian will start under center. Julian completed two of his seven pass attempts for negative-1 yards and carried the ball three times for 1 yard after Woodside left with an injury Tuesday.

“Their offense doesn’t change, so you just got to prepare the same way,” said head coach Rod Carey. “They got a good, capable backup there who came in and got them the win. I don’t probably think his stats were what him or his team wanted, but they got the win.”

Looking past the quarterbacks, this game has the potential to be a ground-and-pound slugfest.

Toledo running back Kareem Hunt racked up 339 rushing yards in his last two games after missing three games with an ankle injury. He has rushed for a team-high 866 yards and eight touchdowns in six games, headlining an offense that ranks second in the MAC in rushing offense (245.3 yards per game).

“This league has a lot of good backs this year, but Kareem’s his own deal,” Carey said. “He’s powerful. [He has] speed. He has a lot of the same attributes [as Jahwan Edwards, Ball State Cardinals running back], but when I look at them I don’t see the same guy. I see a different guy who’s a really good running back and who … has a lot of make-you-miss in him with some good power in there, too.”

The Huskies own the conference’s best rushing mark, averaging 269.4 yards per game on the ground. They have averaged 333.7 rushing yards per game during their current three-game winning streak compared to 142.7 passing yards per game.

Prior to the game, NIU will honor its 19 seniors, who will be playing their final game at Huskie Stadium.

“Senior Night, it’s coming and it’s going to go,” said senior defensive end Jason Meehan. “But, I think we’re really focusing more on Toledo because, I don’t know, Senior Night doesn’t really matter as much; you’re going to show up either way. The only thing that really matters is how you play and whether you win the game or not. … It’s definitely the most important game we’ve played so far … .”