Huskies embrace winning ugly

The Huskies won a slugfest 22-20 on Saturday over Toledo, moving to 4-2 on the season


James Krause | Northern Star

Freshman running back Antario Brown during a practice during the offseason. Brown rushed for 93 yards against Toledo on Oct. 9.

By James Krause

Head football coach Thomas Hammock made it clear last Tuesday at NIU’s weekly press conference that they aren’t playing for style points.

“Like I tell the player we’re not trying to win a beauty pageant,” Hammock said. “I think that’s the great thing about us. We don’t have to be pretty. We don’t have to be anybody’s first choice, but it’s us. Embrace us.”

The Huskies may not win Miss America for their performance Saturday, but they do hold the crown in the Mid-American Conference’s West Division. The Huskies beat the University of Toledo Rockets 22-20 behind a bludgeoning of five field goals by redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson, including a go-ahead score with 26 seconds remaining.

“We want the ugly games,” Hammock said after the win. “We have confidence that we can make plays in the fourth quarter, and that’s what they showed today.”

After being voted to finish last in the MAC West at MAC Media Day in July, the Huskies are the only team in their division with a perfect 2-0 conference record. NIU also shares the best overall record lead with Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University, all three sitting at 4-2 at the year’s midway point.

The low scoring slugfests aren’t anything new to long-time NIU fans. In Rod Carey’s last season as head coach for the Huskies, his team went 8-5 and won the conference championship despite an offense ranked 10th worst in scoring. Even with a championship, many fans of NIU bemoan the final years of Carey’s tenure for the offensive sluggishness.

The last two games have been similar songs with different tunes. The Huskies’ have an identity on offense that is working, as the run-first approach has NIU in the top 20 nationally for both rushing yards and attempts per game.

While scoring only 22 points and one touchdown in a win doesn’t sound all that impressive, it is when you consider it’s the most points Toledo has allowed this season outside of a road loss to the University of Notre Dame. 

While the Rockets have held opponents to an average of 170 rushing yards per game, NIU put up 193 rushing yards in the first half with a running back in freshman Antario Brown, making his first career start. 

NIU dominated the game on both sides, but mistakes and a struggle to finish drives meant the final score won’t show it. Does a more experienced team avoid those mistakes and rout the Rockets? Probably. For now, however, Hammock and company are simply content with the win, no matter the score.

Optimists among those who followed the Huskies and MAC last season said NIU could contend for the MAC title down the road with the crop of talent that showed up in 2020. Halfway through the 2021 season, the Huskies are well ahead of schedule in their fight to return to Detroit for a conference championship.