Huskies take on rival Toledo, possible MAC West crown on the line


NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish has his work cut out for him while facing NIU’s rival the Toledo Rockets.

By Chris Dertz

DeKALB | When the lights go on in Huskie Stadium tonight, all eyes will be on an NIU program garnering national attention going up against its most bitter rival.

When the Toledo Rockets roll into DeKalb, they bring with them a 29-8 record all-time against the Huskies (7-2 overall, 5-0 MAC), who have been jockeying with the Rockets (6-3, 5-0) for first place in the MAC West all season.

This year’s edition of the rivalry, which kicks off at 6 p.m., will be nationally televised on ESPN2, and has serious implications concerning which team will represent the MAC West in Detroit for the MAC Championship game on Friday, Dec. 3.

And with the weather forecast to be in the high 60s, head coach Jerry Kill can focus on the Rockets alone.

But Kill knows what this game means, both to NIU’s MAC Championship aspirations as well as to the fans.

“I know since I’ve been here and talking to Coach Novak and people, Toledo is [big],” Kill said. “I’ve gotten more phone calls and e-mails over the last three days. I just got off the phone with [former NIU quarterback] Josh Haldi. You’re darn right it’s important to the Huskie nation, I don’t think there’s any question about that. Of the last 16, they’ve won 14 of them. I’m sure that has a little bit to do with it.”

While the scope of the game is obviously magnified, Kill is looking for his team to continue its business-like approach in preparing for this game, something he’s been adamant about all season.

The players have also been aware of staying on an even keel going into this week’s matchup.

“The coaches do a great job of setting that mindset in us,” said NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish. “We do the same things every week. We just play football and don’t look too far ahead.”

Harnish has been the most efficient signal-caller in the MAC this season, with a rating of 147.31, and has helped tailback Chad Spann lift the Huskies’ ground game to 11th in the nation.

NIU is averaging 243.33 yards per game  on the ground, 111 of which are coming on the legs of Spann.

But it’s the Huskies’ low turnover total that Kill says has made them successful, something they must continue if they want to have a chance against the Rockets.

Toledo ranks ninth in the nation in turnover margin.

“You have two different, very different types of teams coming at each other,” Harnish said. “I think if we don’t turn the ball over, we’ll be just fine.”