Broncos stifle NIU in final seconds

By Brian Wiencek

The good. The bad. The ugly. Those three words described Saturday’s game in which the Huskies dropped their fourth of the year 13-7 to the Broncos of Western Michigan in front of a crowd of 14,125 at Waldo Stadium.

The good was LeShon Johnson. Though his face did not show it at the post-game press conference, he rushed for 157 yards on 26 carries and became only the sixth player in NIU history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in one season.

In addition, Johnson moved from fifth to third in the NCAA’s leading rusher category with 130.3 yards a game. The “Cowboy” trails San Diego State’s Marshall Faulk (167.6) and Georgia’s Garrison Hearst (141.4).

“We had one real bright spot in the fact that LeShon went ahead and gained the yards that he did against a quality defensive unit,” said NIU head coach Charlie Sadler. “I think that’s a tribute to him and our offensive line.”

Western Michigan linebacker Peter Tuffo agreed about Johnson, but not about the offensive line.

“I think he’s a better back than most of the people we’ve played against,” said Tuffo, “but his offensive line wasn’t very good. They couldn’t run block very well.”

The bad was Scott Crabtree’s 4-of-18 performance to go along with his three interceptions.

“He (Crabtree) seemed to be a little jittery,” said Tuffo. “He didn’t seem like he was too comfortable in the pocket. He just kind of threw the ball up there hoping that his receivers would catch it.”

“We wanted to run some option plays and see if he could get any kind of a spark going offensively,” said Sadler. “I think Western Michigan had more to do with how our offense executed.”

The ugly was just about everything else. NIU had four turnovers to WMU’s three. The Huskie offense tallied only 55 yards passing, while they couldn’t even reach 300 yards of total offense (256). Plus, they squandered a lot of scoring opportunities.

“We had those opportunities,” said Sadler. “We were down inside the 10-yard line in the first half and came away with no points. We just didn’t get it done when we needed to.”

It was a low scoring affair as it took more than 19 minutes before someone scored. Unfortunately, it was WMU on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Brad Tayles to Ulric King.

NIU finally got on the board in the third quarter, thanks to a turnover in the form of a Thom Rhomberg interception. Brian Cotton plunged into the end zone from one yard out to tie it up at 7-7.

With only :17 remaining in the game, Jim Vackaro leaped over a pile of blockers and scored the final points of the game.