Huskies turn to old friend to revive sputtering offense

By John Dietz

NIU 7, Illinois State 5 at halftime. The Huskies’ offense was seemingly dead—35 yards on the ground, 72 in the air. Where was the team that had played in Champaign just one week ago?

It seemed a heartbeat was finally resurrected with about 26 seconds left in the first half. Although the Huskies did not score in that time frame, Rob Rugai and company found an old friend that sparked the team throughout the second half.

The option was back.

Rugai (9 rushes for 70 yards, 1 TD) scampered 29 yards on two QB keepers near the end of the first half and all of a sudden a serious Redbird weakness had been exposed.

On the first play of the second half, Rugai tore down the left side for a gain of 24 yards. That drive came to an abrupt halt, but the Redbirds had now seen Rugai trample their defense for 53 yards on his three previous carries. Bring on LeShon Johnson.

Johnson (23 rushes for 132 yards, 2 TD’s) had previously scored on a 30-yard jaunt right through the defense but had been quiet until about nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

Rugai twice set Johnson up in perfect fashion, and the line allowed the junior tailback ample daylight in which to work.

After a 12-yard run, Johnson took the second pitch from Rugai around left end for his second touchdown of the game and NIU led 19-5.

With the option working like clockwork, it was time for the play of the game.

With the Redbirds on their heels, it was second and 10 on ISU’s 47-yard line. Rugai rolled right and was smothered by a Redbird defenseman. But at the last moment, Rugai flipped the ball to Johnson who was in full stride and ready to streak down the sidelines.

Johnson flew down the field and only Dwayne Walton of ISU could catch him after a 42-yard run.

“He surprised me,” Johnson said. “He came out of nowhere and he got me.”

Rugai capped the drive with a six-yard run on the keeper for the final Huskie touchdown.