Cowboy hogtied; Huskies corralled


OXFORD, Miss.—When NIU traveled south this weekend for the 1993 season finale, most people had one thing on their mind.

Could LeShon do it?

Then when the scoreboard read 32-0 and 10:32 left in the second quarter there wasn’t much suspense in the game itself.

All that remained to be seen by the Huskie-like homecoming crowd of 20,500 was whether or not LeShon could attain the 83 yards necessary to break him into football immortality.

Unfortunately, the “Cowboy” came up short of the magical mark by just 24 yards during the Rebels’ 44-0 rout. Head coach Billy Brewer’s defense yielded LeShon just 59 yards – falling below his career low of 68 last year at Army.

At first it looked as though Johnson would have no problem attaining the 2,000 yard mark when he took three carries on NIU’s first possession for gains of six, four and five yards.

On the next set of downs, Johnson would carry the ball four times for 22 yards, including his game high of 15, before the drive stalled and Brian Stegar’s 46-yard field goal attempt to knot the game at three was wide right.

Johnson racked up 37 yards in the first seven minutes of the opening quarter and appeared to be on his way to another fantastic afternoon.

That is until disaster struck.

Scott Crabtree gave the ball to Johnson off left tackle and the “Cowboy” broke toward the sidelines and was met by left cornerback Tony Collier. Johnson came up wincing in pain and came out with an injury to his right hip.

For the rest of the game, Johnson played when he felt able, but clearly wasn’t his old self after taking the hit with just over a minute left in the first quarter.

“At halftime, we told him how much yardage he needed and told him ‘you’re the only one who will know the extent of your injury,'” Sadler said after the game. “Don’t put yourself in if you can’t go, don’t get yourself injured.‘ During the second half, the times he sat out, those were his decisions. He’s been hurt all year, but he’s a tough young man.”

For the remainder of the game he carried the ball 17 times for just 25 yards. There were a couple other major factors to Johnson’s lowest output of his career – one of which was the absence of two starting offensive linemen in Timmie Lewis and Derek Sholdice.

“Not to take away from any of those guys that did perform today, but those other guys are first string for a reason,” Sadler said.

The other major factor was the Ole’ Miss defense, which lived up to the billing of their All-American talents. The Rebels’ utilized their overpowering size and speed and made NIU’s offense suffer all day.

“They’re faster (and) speed kills,” Johnson said. “That’s what makes them good. They stopped me from getting outside.”

Despite a day which Johnson explained as one of the most frustrating of his career, he remained positive about the season overall.

“Even though they stopped me, I’m still happy with the season I had,” Johnson said.

As far as the game itself, NIU came out firing. Crabtree threw his first pass in over four games complete for 28 yards to Raymond Roberts, which moved the Huskies near midfield on the first play from scrimmage.

Then the running backs took over and position Sadler’s squad with an opportunity to strike first. From the Ole‘ Miss 27, Crabtree dropped back to pass and had his pass deflected at the line by inside linebacker Abdul Jackson and was picked off by fellow linebacker Cassius Ware who returned it 17 yards to the 39.

After the Rebel’s capitalized on the turnover with a 41-yard field goal, the Huskies once again began to march down field. An impressive seven play, 51-yard drive ended in Stegar’s missed field goal.

Then two plays really took the wind out of the Huskies’ sails and Ole‘ Miss never looked back.

Wide receiver Eddie Small caught a ball in the middle of the field at the 35-yard line, faked out the entire Huskie defensive core and sprinted down the sidelines for an 80-yard touchdown run to put the Rebels up 10-0.

On the next possession, things once again started out in the right direction for NIU when Ole’ Miss was whistled for pass interference on Vaurice Patterson. Then a delay of game penalty and a seven-yard loss by Johnson second and 22 and a passing situation for the Huskies.

Crabtree went back to pass and was pressured up the middle, but didn’t throw the ball initially. He waited … and waited … and waited, until he finally threw the ball out of bounds and away from enemy blue and red.

The enemy black and white striped officials then conferred and called an intentional grounding penalty while Crabtree was in the endzone and the Rebels’ were awarded a safety.

Pouring salt on the wound, Crabtree was whistled for unsportmanlike conduct and NIU was forced to kick off form the 10-yard line.

Ole‘ Miss took over and used the surge of momentum in their favor.

For the Huskies it was game over, season over: wait til’ next year.