NIU football coach Dave Doeren has a plea for all Huskie football fans, especially those who are considering the Black Friday shopping madness.
Skip the malls. Come to the game.
“We have 19 seniors that are going to be … currently the fifth-winningest class in NIU football history. If we would find a way to win out, they would be the all-time winningest class in NIU football history,” Doeren said.
“In my opinion, we have one of the most dynamic players ever to wear a Huskie uniform in Chandler Harnish. If he finds a way to finish statistically the way he could, he’d be the only quarterback in college football history to rush for 1,500 and throw for 3,000, more than Cam Newton, more than anyone else in college football history.”
Sounds like fun?
Friday’s game versus Eastern Michigan kicks off at 10 a.m. at Huskie Stadium, and students are admitted free with their NIU OneCards.
NIU has the edge, leading the overall series 25-14-2 with a baker’s dozen of those coming at home. The Huskies won the last three.
Even more exciting: A win by the Huskies (8-3, 6-1) over the Eagles (6-5, 4-3) will cement a trip to Detroit next week. The Huskies are tied with Toledo for the MAC West Division, and need a victory to secure a second straight appearance in the Marathon MAC Championship game.
(And, for those truly unable to tear themselves away from holiday shopping, the game will be televised on ESNPU.)
“We’re playing against a very good Eastern Michigan team this week. Fortunately, we’ve had some time to rest our guys, which we needed coming out of the grind that we had – the three-game road stretch, followed up with two back-to-back games with teams that had 10 days to rest for us. It allowed them to be as physical as they possibly could be, in my opinion,” Doeren said.
“So we’ve had some time to get ourselves healthy. We’re about as healthy as we’ve been as a football team. I know our guys feel good. We’ve had some nice weather, so we’ve been able to get some practices in, too,” he added.
“We were able to get a couple of 10 a.m. practices in on the weekend, and we’ll get another one tomorrow to prepare our guys for being up at 6 a.m. to start the day, trying to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for kickoff at 10 a.m. so they’re ready to go.”
Doeren’s players are having fun now that they’ve reached this point of the season, the coach said, as they see the fruits of their labors becoming real and enjoy being in control of their own destiny.
“If we win, we’re in,” he said. “It’s nice to have that carrot we’ve been dangling to actually be right there in front of your nose.”
At the same time, he said, the team remains determined to accomplish its goals.
Three consecutive Tuesday night game provide good exposure but kept the students out of class Mondays and Tuesdays of those weeks. Players arrived back on campus just before dawn those Wednesdays and scrambled to make morning classes.
Meanwhile, as the end of the semester nears, the players are preparing their final papers and projects and studying for final exams.
But “I think our guys have had great focus. They know our plan. They’ve appreciated the days off. We’ve really spent time on our academics, trying to get caught up,” he added.
“There’s a good buzz with a great senior class. They’re excited to play. They’re in shock that it’s their last game at Huskie Stadium. I’m really anxious to see them practice today and tomorrow.”
“I think it’s easy for us to stay focused on Eastern Michigan. They’re a heck of football team and have made huge improvements this year. Well-coached, play sound defense, run the ball well. We have to focus; we have to play our ‘A’ game,” Harnish said.
“Let’s not kid ourselves – this is a team that could beat us,” Harnish added. “If we don’t bring our A game, then we’ll find ourselves in a bad spot. We have to be just as focused as we were for every other game this year, and we can’t take them lightly. If we beat them, then we can start talking.”
Eastern Michigan comes to DeKalb with two “heartbreaking” losses in its last three games.
But the Eagles are playing “a very sound defense” that is aggressive, physical and fast, Doeren said. They’re also relying on the run over the pass, tossing the ball as few as six times in a game.
“If you can play defense, run the ball and not hurt yourself on special teams, in the fourth quarter, you’re fighting. I think that’s what they’ve done,” Doeren said. “And they’ve recruited well. Their two safeties are transfers from Louisville and UCLA, they’re both seniors, and they’re playing like it. They’re good players.”
Unfortunately for EMU fans, the Huskies are proving good at sealing the deal in tight games.
“It’s leadership. The same guys making mistakes are the same guys winning the game for us, which I like to see. You see Chandler fumble, then he comes back with a performance I know he was down about, but was statistically impressive. Nate Palmer fumbles, comes back and scores a huge touchdown for us to get rolling,” Doeren said.
“So guys that made some mistakes also made up for them, which is a maturity process. I’m just proud of the way they’ve fought to get to where we’re at. November’s important, which as a football coach, that’s what you want. You want November to be a month where you’re playing for a championship. That’s where we are.”
Linebacker Pat Schiller knows that a return to another MAC Championship is “not too far off.”
“But we’re kind of treating this Eastern Michigan game like the MAC Championship just because of how close the other games have been the past few games. We know if we want to get there, we need to be at Eastern Michigan,” Schiller said.
“It’s kind of been that playoff system for the past seven weeks now. It’s just one of those things where it’s unbelievable that this is our last one, our last home game as seniors, playing here. It’s crazy how fast it’s gone by,” he added. “But we know that our ultimate goal this year is to go to the MAC Championship, and the only people in our way is Eastern Michigan.”