Turnovers spell NIU defeat

By Sean Ostruszka

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – NIU coach Joe Novak knows his team missed its chance at a win.

Sitting in the press conference after the game against Michigan, Novak couldn’t stop grinning when he thought about how close his team came.

“Call me crazy but if we didn’t turn the ball over when we did, I think we had a chance there,” Novak said. “That 14-point swing in the second quarter was a killer.”

Garrett Wolfe rushed for 148 yards and one touchdown, and caught 3 passes for another 31 yards. But with 4:14 left in the second quarter, one of Wolfe’s catches did more than just get a first down.

Trying to answer a Michigan touchdown, NIU’s offense was driving down the field. On Michigan’s 31-yard line, quarterback Phil Horvath tossed a shovel pass to Wolfe who took off down the middle of the field.

At the 13-yard line, UM’s Pat Massey caught up to Wolfe and brought him to the ground, but not before he was able to pop the ball from his grasp. Michigan fell on the ball and killed NIU’s hopes of going into halftime down only 20-17.

“I’ve been coached to hold the ball high and tight,” Wolfe said. “It was an undisciplined move on my part and I take the blame for it. Unfortunately after that everything started to go downhill.”

Sitting in the same press conference, NIU’s Shatone Powers couldn’t bring himself to smile.

Powers, No. 83, led the Huskies in receptions and yards against Michigan, but it was the catch he didn’t make that kept him from lifting his head.

With 1:25 left in the second quarter, Powers waited underneath Ryan Ross’ punt. He knew gunner Darnell Hood was bearing down on him, but he thought he had enough space between them. He thought wrong.

After two steps with the ball, Hood was able to hit the ball and knock it loose. Both teams piled onto the ball, Michigan came away with it and three plays later found the end zone.

“I was so focused on catching the ball,” Powers said. “I just lost it.”

In a 2:49 span in the second quarter, NIU lost more fumbles than it did all last season. In 2004, the Huskies lost only one. The Huskies also saw their chance for victory fall apart, Horvath said.

When Wolfe was asked about the second quarter, he hung his head a little and then said that it made a difference in the game’s outcome.

“Michigan didn’t make those big mistakes,” Wolfe said. “Those key mistakes were what hurt us, and the stats will show that we shot ourselves in the foot.”