Now it counts: NIU enters MAC play

By Sean Ostruszka

From here on out, every game counts.

The “could haves” and “almosts” won’t cut it anymore. If the NIU football team wants to finally make the trip to Detroit for the MAC Championship, it’s going to have to take care of business.

The first order of business for NIU coach Joe Novak and company – get that first MAC win when the Huskies open up conference play at the University of Akron at 5 p.m. Saturday.

In last season’s match up, both sides of the ball clicked for NIU. The offense scored three touchdowns in the first quarter alone, while the defense limited eventual third-round NFL draft pick Charlie Frye to 186 yards passing.

This year’s game looks similar to last year’s.

NIU running back Garrett Wolfe’s shoulder is feeling better and he will start after missing the second half of last week’s game.

The nation’s No. 4 rusher is joined in the backfield by A.J. Harris, who is coming off his first 100-yard game since Sept. 11, 2004 against Southern Illinois University.

NIU quarterback Phil Horvath also is coming off a big game last week in which he tossed four touchdown passes – all in the first half – and threw for 218 yards.

While the offense tries to emulate last season’s performance, the defense again will have to try and stop another passing threat.

Junior Luke Getsy took over the reins this season and hasn’t missed a beat. The transfer from Pittsburgh leads the MAC’s second-best passing offense.

But NIU’s pass defense has been up to the challenge. The Huskies are best in the MAC at defending the pass and are coming of the game against Tennessee Tech where they allowed 131 yards through the air.

Despite the numbers, Novak says he isn’t quite ready to say his defense is championship caliber.

“We need to continue to get better,” Novak said. “They are much improved, but they’re not there yet.”

One area the Huskies will have to work on is penalties. NIU racked up 140 yards in penalties last weekend – eight yards short of the school record.

“We won’t win another game if we play like that,” Novak said. “We have got to get better in that area.”

Eight MAC games: That’s what separates NIU from the MAC Championship. The team knows this and can’t wait to get started.

“We’re ready to get our goal,” Horvath said. “We’re ready to get it on.”