Huskies gamble, hit jackpot


In what could be the biggest win in NIU football since the 1983 California Bowl, the Huskies defeated the Wolf Pack of Nevada 46-42.

This moved NIU another giant step closer to an automatic bid to the Las Vegas Bowl in December.

“I know we’re 2-0, and that’s as good as anybody else is right now. We’re a third of the way there,” said head coach Charlie Sadler. “We took a major step today. Nevada is a good football team.”

The three-time defending champions posed a true conference threat to the Huskies’ hopes of a bowl bid, but a strong showing by the offense and a great defensive effort in the fourth quarter proved to be the factor. When the game was on the line, the bench came through to help seal Nevada’s fate.

“We felt we could win this game in the fourth quarter,” Sadler said. “We had the depth to roll people in fresh and it panned out exactly as we thought it would.”

The Huskie offense rattled off 19 unanswered points in the last 18 minutes of the game to steal the win after being down 42-27. Quarterback Scott Crabtree (11 of 15, 340 yards and five TD’s) and wide receiver Vaurice Patterson (four catches, 187 yards and two TD’s) had career games. The two hooked up twice for long touchdowns.

One was a 36-yard pass and the second was a 65-yard bomb.

Both came off a “flea-flicker.” The trick play worked in the first quarter, so Sadler tried it again in the fourth and it paid off.

“With the type of structure they run we felt they were susceptible to those type of plays and they worked out for us,” Sadler said.

Crabtree also found Sean Allgood twice for touchdowns and tight end Raymond Roberts for another. All five of Crabtree’s touchdown passes were for 24 yards or more.

“We knew they’d key on LeShon (Johnson) and that would open up other opportunities for us,” Crabtree said.

The Wolf Pack defense did a number on LeShon Johnson and NIU’s rushing attack. The All-American candidate was held to 92 yards on 26 carries, but did get into the end zone once. That one turned out to be the game winner putting NIU up by six with 2:02 left to play.

Huskie kickoff return man Steve Rodgers did an excellent job of getting NIU good field positions to start drives. Rodgers had four returns for 160 yards. He had an 84-yard return spoiled by an illegal use of hands call which gave him credit for just 15 yards on the return. His other returns were of 68, 58 and 19 yards.

Kicker Brian Steger contributed to the scoring by connecting on all four of his extra-point attempts and nailing field goals of 46 and 31 yards. The Huskies failed on two-point conversions twice which would have made the score 50-42.

The defense could do nothing against Nevada’s potent passing attack. Nevada quarterback Chris Vargas (36 for 52, 392 yards and three TD’s) connected with three different receivers eight times each. Receiver Bryan Reeves caught eight for 103 yards and two TD’s.

The Wolf Pack offense posted 35 first downs and converted an amazing 11-of-16 third down conversions.

Steve Wild led the defense with 12 tackles (eight solos). C.J. Rose had an outstanding game with one fumble recovery, two blocked passes and a sack. Other sacks came from linebackers Gerald Nickelberry and Jeff Flight.

As a credit to the defense, going into the game Vargas had been sacked only once.

But when it counted (mostly in the fourth quarter) the defense played rough. On Nevada’s first possession of the quarter, they drove to NIU’s 17 yard line. A sack by Nickelberry and an excellent third-and-11 stand limited Nevada to a field goal attempt, which was wide left.

The next time they touched the ball, the defense held the Wolf Pack to 38 yards and forced them to punt.

When Nevada got the ball back, now down 46-42 with two minutes left in the game, Vargas failed to connect on four straight passing attempts and Nevada turned the ball over on downs. They had one last shot with three seconds left in the game, but a “Hail Mary” pass was intercepted by MacArthur Griffin.