Redbirds to rely on 1-2 punch to counter favorite Huskies

By Brian Wiencek

How things have changed. Last week, NIU was an underdog to the University of Illinois, and all the talk was of how hard it would be for them to defeat the Big Ten opponent.

Well, it’s a new week, new game, new opponent—very new.

How new? In one week’s time, NIU’s schedule went from the Big Ten Conference to the Gateway Conference. The Huskies will open their home season against the Redbirds of Illinois State University this Saturday night.

The Division I-AA school finished the 1991 campaign with a 5-6 ledger and a 1-5 record in the Gateway Conference.

The intrastate rivalry dates back to 1906. NIU played the Redbirds last November at Huskie Stadium and came away with a 27-24 victory. However, the Huskies have changed so much from a year ago that last year’s contest is totally irrelevant to this Saturday’s game.

“This is a different NIU team,” said ISU head coach Jim Heacock. “We haven’t even talked to our players about last year. We won’t even show them the film because we’re not playing that team.”

However, ISU still may be tougher than they are made out to be. According to the results of last week’s 51-12 victory over Southwest Minnesota State, they are not to be taken lightly.

The Redbirds totaled 546 yards of total offense, while two senior offensive starters tore up the field. ISU quarterback Adrian Wilson was 16-of-22 for 292 yards. Last season, he was 152-of-269 for 1,673 yards and nine touchdowns. Wilson is 240 yards, and possibly one game, shy of becoming ISU’s No. 3 passer. Last season, he threw for 1,673 yards.

“They’re probably the names on our team that have been most successful,” said Heacock. “(Wilson’s) a leader.”

Running back Toby Davis rushed for 155 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday. Last season, he rushed for over 1,100 yards and seven touchdowns in the dismal 5-6 year for the Redbirds. Davis is two touchdowns away from becoming ISU’s career leader and 150 yards from becoming the No. 5 rusher in Gateway history.

“He’s a hard runner,” said Heacock. “He’s got good size and the combination of the two is what has carried us.”

This week, NIU’s opponent is the underdog instead of the Huskies. The Redbirds are as much in awe of playing a Division I school as the Huskies were of playing a Big Ten school.

“This is a step up for us,” said Heacock. “Our kids view it as that. It’s a chance to go and play a Division I team.”

It’s also a chance for the Huskies to come away with a victory.