Huskies clinch MAC West title, will travel to first MAC Championship game since 2005


Chad Spann scores his third touchdown during the MAC West championship game.

By Andrew Singer

There are a lot of things the NIU football team has never done. Before Saturday for example, the Huskies had never paired a MAC West title with an eight-game win streak.

One 59-21 triumph over Ball State later and NIU can celebrate its eighth consecutive win by booking a trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship on Dec. 3.

Now NIU has another first to accomplish: win a MAC Championship game.

It didn’t take long for the Huskies to get the blowout festivities started against the Cardinals (4-8 overall, 3-5 MAC) Saturday afternoon. NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish  hooked up with wide receiver Nathan Palmer on the Huskies first offensive drive of the game for a 37-yard score.

Late in the first quarter, freshman Jimmie Ward once again made his presence felt on the NIU (9-2, 7-0) punt-block team. Following a block by Jordan Delegal, Ward rumbled 15 yards into the end zone to put the Huskies up 14-0. The Huskies would block two more punts to set a school record for punts blocked in a game.

“[NIU] is a very good team, but you cannot make it easy for them,” said Ball State head coach Stan Parrish. “They make you play sloppy because they are aggressive. To have a chance you have got to play your ‘A’ game and we did not.”

Harnish found Palmer again for a 47-yard touchdown that put NIU up 21-7 late in the second quarter. An Eric Williams two-yard touchdown run represented the only Ball State points in a first half that ended 35-7.

Reigning MAC West Offensive Player of the Week, Harnish finished his afternoon with 247 yards on 15-of-22 passing and two touchdowns.

Running back Chad Spann  led the Huskies on the ground with 88 yards and three touchdowns. The senior is now solely in second place on the NIU career rushing touchdowns list after passing Michael Turner on Saturday.

Productive in all phases of the game, the NIU defense held the Ball State offense under 300 total yards while creating three turnovers.

The Huskies forced two fumbles to go along with a Tyrone Clark interception returned for a touchdown. Clark’s interception represented the sophomore linebacker’s team-leading fourth pick of the 2010 campaign.

Kill expressed feelings of relief after NIU downed the Cardinals and clinched a spot in the MAC Championship Game.

“It’s good to get it done,” Kill said. “We were able to go on the road and get the job done, accomplish what we needed to do to get to Detroit. We’ll enjoy the win but we have to turn around and play again on Friday.”

The matchup will be the Huskies’ first trip to Ford Field since 2005 when they dropped a 31-30 decision to Akron. That defeat marks NIU’s only appearance in the conference championship game. The Huskies last won the conference in 1983, before the introduction of the MAC Championship bout.