Football team has come a long way

By Nathan Lindquist

After a heartbreaking 48-42 overtime loss at Akron to drop its record to 1-3, the NIU football team didn’t look like a team of destiny.

Junior running back, scoring machine and immaculate dresser Garrett Wolfe was shut down. The defense missed tackles left and right. After such lofty preseason expectations of a bowl repeat, the Huskies looked like a .500 team that couldn’t win close games.

But after the players rushed the field and celebrated a MAC West title Wednesday, what looked like an impossibility in September had come true.

The game plan against Western Michigan was typical Joe Novak: run the ball, then run it some more. And with Wolfe doing his best Barry Sanders impersonation, he would have been nuts to stop. The junior had 156 yards and three touchdowns by halftime. By the way, that knee looks healthy again.

While much of the praise is given to his uncanny field vision, the humble Wolfe once again gave all the credit to his offensive line. A usually faceless bunch, the Huskie front line has distinguished itself this year thanks in part to center Brian Van Acker and tackle Doug Free.

After facing three straight blitzing defenses with quality front fours, the offensive line delivered probably the most dominant performance of the year when it mattered. With the defensive ends sealed perfectly and Van Acker pulling to the outside, Wolfe had monster holes all afternoon. And not a hair on young quarterback Dan Nicholson’s head was disturbed as WMU’s pass rush ceased to exist.

But as all good offensive coordinators know, a running back of even Wolfe’s caliber can’t be effective if he’s facing eight men in the box every down. So it was only appropriate senior wide receiver Sam Hurd lived up to his hype with a record-setting season.

Coming into the year, the San Antonio native had only 78 catches and eight touchdowns over three seasons. But as it turns out, he was just saving his best for last. After his four-catch, 119-yard performance against the Broncos, Hurd raised his season totals to 63 receptions for 1,048 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Hurd, the consummate performer and fortune teller he is, predicted during the week he would have another big game on ESPN2. And for all his hilariously quotable press conference boastings, Hurd has delivered every time, usually on national television. An NFL team would be crazy not to draft him. Look out Randy and T.O., the Birdman is coming to Sundays.

With much of the attention showered Wolfe and Hurd, the man giving them the ball every play is stealing the spotlight. Redshirt freshman Dan Nicholson has endured a baptism of fire, pulling off three straight must-win games against the MAC’s best.

His eight completions on 13 attempts for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Broncos is not a sexy fantasy football line, but Nicholson has all-around polish, especially with the play action and finds his receivers every time. If Phil Horvath isn’t careful in the off-season, Nicholson will take his job for good.