NIU football takes on Ball State with chance to clinch MAC West title


Northern Illinois running back Chad Spann rushed for three touchdowns in the Huskies’ 65-30 win over Toledo on Nov. 9.

By Chris Dertz

With one more win, the NIU football program will have accomplished what MAC voters believed it would before the season began; first place in the MAC West.

After beating Toledo 65-30 at home on Nov. 9, the Huskies (8-2 overall, 6-0 MAC) now hold their destiny in their own hands, needing only one win over their final two games to clinch the division. Their first opportunity comes Saturday at 11 a.m., when NIU will go on the road to take on the Ball State Cardinals after a 10-day layoff between games.

With a long resting period between games, NIU head coach Jerry Kill may have reason to be worried about his team’s intensity out of the gates on Saturday.

Against the Cardinals (4-7, 3-4), however, a lack of fire is the last thing that Kill is expecting out of his team.

“I don’t know how you can have a letdown when you’re playing or so much,” Kill said. “It’s a situation where you reached one of your goals, where you’re at and what you’ve worked for and what the program wants to do. I look for us to play hard, and I’d be disappointed if we didn’t.”

The Huskies may have to play hard to avoid a possible trap game, as a Ball State team that has struggled all season may be playing its best football of the season.

The Cardinals have won consecutive games for the first time all season, beating Akron in overtime on Nov. 6 and taking Buffalo down 20-3 just last Friday.

While Ball State’s defense has been playing well of late, it may have more than it can bargain for with NIU’s rushing attack, which ranks tenth in the nation, averaging 261.2 yards per game on the ground.

Ball State’s defense has given up an average 176.9 yards on the ground per contest this season. Overall, the Cardinals’ defense is surrendering 394.34 yards of offense per game.

“The key is that we’ve been able to dominate up front,” said NIU running back Ricky Crider. “I said before that our O-line would be able to take us as far as we would go, and they’ve been playing great. They’ve been opening up huge holes.”

In the end, it may be the battle in the trenches that decides whether or not NIU will clinch a spot in its first MAC Championship game since 2005.

“Every year, we talk about our main goal is to win the MAC, to go to the MAC Championship,” said NIU safety Mike Sobol. “To finally have everything fall in place like we did, and how hard we’ve worked since we’ve been here, it’s a very special feeling.”