NIU rips Army 49-26

By Eli Gehn

NIU football hit the ground running in its season opener against the Army Black Knights Saturday.

With 17,003 in attendance, the Huskies (1-0) controlled the game throughout, pummeling Army (0-1), 49-26 at Brigham Field.

“My job is to have the football team ready to play, and we weren’t ready,” said Army head coach Rich Ellerson.

The newly implemented no-huddle offense ran like a fine-tuned machine as the Huskies racked up 509 total yards.

Twenty-eight of NIU’s 35 first-half points came courtesy from the offense, as the scoring binge put Army into too deep of a hole to crawl out of.

“The start of that game couldn’t have been any better,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren, who became the first Huskie coach to win in his debut since 1985.

The Huskies started their momentum early on when sophomore defensive back Jimmie Ward blocked an Army punt, and safety Courtney Stephen scooped it up and went 16 yards the other way for a touchdown.

“The defense went three-and-out to start the game, then we got the punt block,” Doeren said. “That really got it going.”

Huskie quarterback Chandler Harnish proved he belonged on numerous preseason award watch lists heading into 2011.

Through the first three quarters of play, Harnish threw for a career high five touchdown passes, while tacking on another score on the ground.

“All the credit goes to the wide outs and running backs…[the] o-line protected all day,” Harnish said. “Those guys did all of the work.”

NIU’s running game put up 289 total yards on the ground, with running back Jasmin Hopkins leading the way with 138 yards on 14 carries.

“We went out there with a chip on our shoulder,” Hopkins said. “The offensive line really wanted it and I give all the credit to them.”

With the Huskies offense scoring quickly and often, the defense spent about 18 minutes on the field in the first half.

NIU’s defense was a question mark heading into Saturday’s contest due to losing half of its starters from last season.

Yet, from the first game, it appears the Huskies could have some play makers on the defensive side.

NIU’s defense forced three turnovers, while allowing Army to convert only six of 15 on third down conversions.

“We build off of the offense, and they build off of us,” said Huskie defensive tackle Alan Baxter. “That’s what made us make some big plays.”

NIU didn’t seem threatened when it came to playing the Army’s unique triple option offense.

However, the Black Knights did run for 303 yards on 63 rushing attempts, as three different players scored on the ground.

But their scoring would come too late, as the Huskies defense allowed only one touchdown in the first half, which gave them confidence to set the pace for the rest of the game.

“This is a statement game,” said senior linebacker Jordan Delegal.