Leshoure and Scheelhaase lead Illini to victory

By Chris Dertz

CHAMPAIGN | NIU defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was worried about one thing before this weekend’s game against Illinois.

“Everything starts with the quarterback,” Claeys said.

He was referring to Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who, together with Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure, created a two-man rushing attack that the NIU (1-2) defense couldn’t stop all day.

The two combined for 295 yards on the ground, with Leshoure leading the team with 180.

The Illini (2-1) used this rushing attack to survive the upset bid by NIU 28-22.

Leshoure racked up more and more yards in bigger chunks as the game went on, and by the second half, the NIU defense was reeling as the two Illini runners had their way with the Huskies’ front seven.

It was Scheelhaase’s running that was Illinois’ trump card, however. Claeys had discussed stopping him once he got out on the edge, and that was where Scheelhaase was able to hurt NIU in his first career 100-yard rushing game.

Scheelhaase brought a tenacious attitude with him, hurdling over defenders and flying through the air on more than one occasion.

“I wish he wouldn’t do it, but he’s such a competitor,” said Illinois head coach Ron Zook. “He’s getting smarter with his decision-making but I can’t take his game away from him.”

While Leshoure had the bulk of Illinois’ yards on the ground, the NIU defense knew that it was Scheelhaase that caused a majority of the problems for the Huskies.

The option game was in full swing for the Illini, and it showed on the stat sheet as well as the final scoreboard.

“He ran just like a back did,” said NIU defensive lineman Jake Coffman. “He’s a good kid. He got out of the pocket, and he made things happen. He gave us some problems, but I think, for the most part, we did a good job containing him.”