Football powers through adversity: NIU needs to find its leader, identity

By Frank Gogola

If there was ever a week for football to lose a home game in which it was a 26-point favorite, this weekend was it.

Upsets abounded as 11 top-25 college football teams, including seven undefeated teams, lost between Thursday and Saturday. The Huskies (4-1, 1-0 MAC) could have been another casualty in the barrage of upsets. Instead, they somehow, someway did just enough to squeak by and survive a legitimate scare from the Kent State Golden Flashes.

The defense held strong when it needed to most on Kent State’s final possession, and NIU escaped with a 17-14 win.

“No one, no one thought that we would even be in this game, at all,” said Kent State head coach Paul Haynes. “And, this football team will continue to fight, grind like crazy. It is shaping us for bigger and better things… .”

Yes, the Huskies had two weeks to heal injuries and prepare for Kent State, but they also hadn’t seen live competition in those two weeks. Their offense came out rusty and never appeared to find its rhythm.

Part of the rhythm issue was the near-constant back-and-forth switching at the quarterback position, especially in the second half. Redshirt sophomore Drew Hare played seven series — four in the first half and three in the second half. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Maddie played five series — one in the first half and four in the second half.

Looking to the topsy turvy college football world outside DeKalb, the rash of upsets would have made a loss by NIU not that farfetched, in retrospect.

Eleven teams ranked in the top 19 of the AP Poll lost over the weekend. Five of the top eight teams lost, including four of the top six teams. It was the first time in the history of the AP Poll, which began in 1936, that five of the top eight teams were beaten in the same week.

In fact, the Huskies were on upset alert midway through the fourth quarter. Kent State quarterback Colin Reardon got the Golden Flashes within 17-14 after a touchdown and a two-point conversion. The NIU faithful fell silent as the Huskies were on the verge of being on the wrong end of an upset.

After forcing a three-and-out, the Golden Flashes got the ball back and marched to NIU’s 34-yard line with about three minutes to go. Reardon got injured picking up the first down, his backup left with an injury on his second play and the third-string quarterback couldn’t move the ball.

A 56-yard Kent State field goal in the swirling winds to send the game to overtime would have made so much sense; however, the kick came up short. The Huskies survived a game that should have never been so close. At the same time, if they had lost it would have seemed like just another piece of the puzzle in the “Upset Weekend” narrative.

“You always enjoy [a win]. You don’t ever take anything else, you always enjoy it,” said head coach Rod Carey. “I mean, I’ve lost games like that before in my career. You don’t ever, ever slight winning. Winning is winning, by one or by 50. You don’t get any style points. They don’t put any asterisks in the thing, ‘Ooh, that looked really pretty.’ They don’t do that. So, we take that for exactly what it is: a win.”

So, yes, chalk up another win for the Huskies — the Huskies who have yet to find their quarterback and their true identity.