Huskies battle for the MAC Championship


Jake Coffman lines up at the start of a play earlier this season. The Huskies are getting ready to battle Miami (OH) in the MAC Championship game in Detroit.

By Chris Dertz

Every man that has walked out the Yordon Center doors into Huskie Stadium over the past four years has been waiting for this.

Every hand that has touched that Huskie statue, and every cleat to dig into that FieldTurf has been waiting for this.

But while the NIU football team has succeeded in reaching its first MAC Championship game since 2005, its journey is not over.

“This is the end of the race,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “Are we going to be able to finish it? We’re there and have that opportunity.”

That opportunity comes tonight, as No. 24 NIU (10-2 overall, 8-0 MAC) will try to capture its first MAC Championship since 1983 when it takes on Miami (OH) at Ford Field in Detroit at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

And while the Huskies are a clear favorite in the game, ranked No. 23 in the USA Today/Coaches poll and No. 25 in the BCS standings, Kill isn’t worried about a letdown.

The question of a letdown has been posed every week, and every week the Huskies have answered. Now in the midst of a record nine-game winning streak, the Huskies are riding into Detroit with as much momentum as they’ve had since a 10-2 season in 2003.

“Any time you win 10 games that’s a good season, but we talked all year about the journey we were on and we wanted to get to Detroit,” Kill said. “Now you have to finish the journey. If it works out, that’s fantastic, if it doesn’t, we’re all going to be here the next day. I think the kids have a pretty good perspective on it. I think they know they’re playing good, solid football right now.”

One of the factors going into the game should be NIU’s offensive production in an indoor stadium, without the presence of inclement weather threatening the Huskies’ execution.

“I’m happy to be getting indoors,” said NIU wide receiver Nathan Palmer. “I think it affects us a lot with the offense, the weather and everything with it being cold. This last Eastern [Michigan] game, it was really tough being out there playing receiver, hamstrings were a little tight, couldn’t open up the strides as much, but it’s going to be good getting some warm weather and get a little sweat going.”

With the receivers able to run for first-team All-MAC quarterback Chandler Harnish, and MAC MVP Chad Spann running against a RedHawk defense that has been stout against the run at times this season, the Huskies appear primed to take their first conference championship since Bill Mallory’s Huskies did back in 1983.

But its this NIU team’s character that has Kill excited about the Huskies’ prospects.

“It’s a joy to coach them,” Kill said. “I like the way they play, they play hard. So far so good, but again, we still have to play on Friday.”