Ball State comes to town looking to defeat Huskies

By Brian Belford

With only two games left in the season and the MAC championship game looming ahead, it’s easy to say NIU is feeling a little déjà vu.

The Huskies (7-3, 5-1 MAC) again find themselves in position to get back to Detroit and win the MAC Championship, something they fell just short of last year, as they get set to take on the Ball State Cardinals (6-4, 4-2 MAC) Tuesday.

Even with their goal in sight, the Huskies refuse to look past Ball State and speculate on whether or not this will be the year they win the MAC, as they focus on blinding their opponent in the “blackout” game.

“There’s nothing that’s promised in the future; we still have to go out there and play hard and get the ‘W’ to keep our hope alive to reach the MAC championship,” said NIU sophomore running back Akeem Daniels. “Right now it’s the biggest game of my life, and I’m ready for it.”

NIU, coming off a 45-14 victory over Bowling Green, has won five games in a row. Its last three victories came on the road.

Even though the Huskies had success away from Huskie Stadium, the team is happy to play at home.

“It feels awesome to be home,” said NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish. “Three away games in a row, I think we’re the only MAC school to do that this year and to win them all against three quality opponents is something we’re very proud of.”

In their last three wins, the Huskies’ passing game, somewhat dormant since a loss to Central Michigan, was rejuvenated against Toledo and Bowling Green, as Harnish threw for a combined 559 yards and eight touchdowns. Harnish attributed the passing games success to the fact that he’s settled down and allowed his receivers to make more plays.

“Over the past few games I’m playing more relaxed,” Harnish said. “It’s a quarterback-driven offense. It’s on my shoulders. I just need to put the ball where it needs to be and let those guys make plays, and that’s what I’ve gotten back to doing; just putting the ball in an area rather than trying to make the perfect throw.”

This will be a different Ball State team than the one that got beaten badly in Muncie, Ind. last year by NIU, 59-21. The Cardinals have won three out of their last four games and have a winning record under new head coach Pete Lembo after finishing 4-8 last season.

NIU head coach Dave Doeren said in order for the Huskies to win, they have to continue to play their game.

“We have got to play sound, play smart, play physical, play tough and play four quarters,” Doeren said. “We have to continue to run the ball and try to stop the run. We have to be ourselves and use the home field for what it is [and] use it to our advantage.”