Improvements to Huskie defense evident during MAC Championship

By Tony Osborne

If there has been one facet of NIU football’s game that has drastically improved over the span of the season, it has been the defense.

This was never more evident than in the Marathon MAC Championship Game in Detroit Friday evening.

“Our defense played extremely well,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren. “Really proud of them and proud of what we did for NIU, all of our fans and all the former players.”

In the first half of the game, the Ohio took a commanding lead, blanking the Huskies in the first half.

Ohio’s passing game was seemingly a revolving door, with only one guy walking through it: LaVon Brazill. The Bobcats’ top wideout hauled in four catches for 80 yards in the first quarter alone. The NIU secondary figured him out in due time, only allowing Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton to pass to Brazill four more times for 44 yards the rest of the game.

“We just came together as a team and understood that tackling was the key,” said NIU cornerback Rashaan Melvin. “When we weren’t able to tackle, [Brazill] made some catches but we also made plays ourselves.”

And make plays they did. Durante, Jimmie Ward and Jhony Faustin each had a interception in arguably the biggest stage they have played on.

The Bobcats, however, scored 10 points in each of the first two quarters, but never really got anything going without trickery.

“The best plays they had in the first half were trick plays,” said NIU defensive end Sean Progar. “So we knew we were doing pretty good on our base stuff and we knew they couldn’t run the ball on us.”

With Ohio’s cache of trick plays seemingly empty, NIU was able to settle down and concentrate on its assignments in the second half.

After the first half, the Bobcats netted 302 total yards of offense, with 203 of those yards coming through the air.

Unlike the first 11 games of the season, NIU’s offense was feeling the heat in needing to score early and often. With a slower offensive attack than usual, the defense stepped up in a big way, giving the Huskies’ offense the confidence they needed.

“The whole year we were used to having to score a lot, and this time they were shutting them up,” said senior wide receiver and game MVP Nathan Palmer.

In the second half, the Huskies’ defense came out as dogs possessed. NIU allowed two first downs by the Bobcats, after posting 15 first downs in the first half. Ohio could only muster up six first downs in the second half.

The Huskies put up 23 unanswered points in the second half, only to seal the deal with a last second field goal by senior Mathew Sims.

“I can’t even say how proud I am, but it goes to everybody, it’s not just me; it’s the whole defense and the coaching staff. They kept believing in us, and we all believed in the coaches a lot, throughout the whole season,” Progar said. “The game shouldn’t have ended any other way but this.”