Two undefeated football teams will march into Huskie Stadium Saturday in dogged pursuit of continued perfection.
Only one will emerge unscathed.
For the NIU Huskies, who are among the last six Football Bowl Subdivision teams without a home game yet this season, two records are on the line.
NIU has won 21 straight games in its own stadium, the longest such streak in the country. The Huskies’ last loss in DeKalb came Sept. 26, 2009, in a 34-31 defeat at the hands of Idaho.
(Revenge came last weekend when the Huskies beat the Vandals in Moscow, although that victory proved tough. The Huskie defense recorded nine sacks and gave up just seven second-half points as NIU tallied 31 of the game’s last 38 points.)
Coach Rod Carey knows the work won’t get easier this week against in-state rival Eastern Illinois, which topped NIU 24-10 in their last meeting in 1998.
“They run the spread, they run two backs, they run no huddle, they tempo you in different ways by going slow and going fast. They’re just a well-coached football team using the entire width of the field, the entire length of the field and the tempos of the game and how to dictate it. They really know how to control a football game offensively,” Carey said.
“They have a quarterback who is as good as anyone that I’ve seen on film in the nation so far. I’m really impressed with him and their team as a whole. You know, you look at the film, and they do things the right way and all three parts,” he added.
“It’s going to be a test. Label them whatever you want them as, 1-AA or FCS. That don’t matter to me, and it won’t matter to our team, because you put on the film and it’s a really good football team. Period. End of story.”
His players understand as well.
“We don’t underestimate any team we play. We prepare as much as we do for a 1AA school as much as we do for a 1A. Their division doesn’t affect what we’re going to do in our game plan and practice,” safety Dominique Ware said. “They have beaten a school that’s bigger than them already, in San Diego State, and we don’t want that happening to us, so we’re going to just prepare like we usually do.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m., and ALL STUDENTS ARE ADMITTED FREE WITH THEIR NIU OneCards.
“I know the guys are excited about that and, as coaches, we’re excited about it too. I think it’s been since Toledo last year that we played at home,” Carey said.
“We’re really excited about that and excited to see our fans come out, which I fully expect they will. They’ve been great. You know, the Orange Bowl was obviously awesome and the interest is probably there right now. It’s the first home game, and it’s going to be nice out too. It’s going to be 70 during the day. I don’t know what (temperature) it’s going to be at night.”
How about hot?
Lynch, always a spectacular threat in the air or on his feet, rushed 159 yards for two touchdowns in Idaho while completing 17 of 29 passes for 152 yards and three TDs.
Wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, meanwhile, caught nine of those passes and rushed 104 yards on four carries with a long of 50. “I enjoy running the ball a lot. Anytime I get the ball in my hands, it’s a great play,” Lewis said. “It’s not too much of a big difference, it’s just fun to have the ball in my hands and try to make a big play.”
“He’s earned the right to have the ball in his hands. He can run it, he can catch it, he can catch it and then run it, he can return kicks, he’s just one of those guys that’s a good football player,” Carey said. “What do you do with good football players who like the ball in their hands? Give them the ball. I was just really happy that he stayed healthy through the whole game.”
The quarterback and wide receiver work well together, the coach added.
“I think his timing with Jordan is better, because it’s his second year playing with him, and just the crispness of his routes,” Carey said. “He’s always had the footwork, he’s always had the quickness to get in and out of breaks, but he’s doing it more consistently now.”
‘OKTOBER’ IN SEPTEMBER
Fans, meanwhile, can celebrate “Oktoberfest” Saturday, Sept. 21, with a full day of music, food and drink on the West Side of Huskie Stadium, open to all Huskie fans.
OktoberFest activities – featuring food and drink available for purchase from local restaurant partner Fatty’s Pub & Grille and Leinenkugel’s – will open five hours prior to kickoff in the tent located adjacent to the Huskie Athletic Support Fund area.
Beginning at 3 p.m. (three hours before kickoff), the local band Back Country Roads will entertain guests. After the game, come back to the tent and enjoy music from Red Woody from 9 p.m. (after the game) until midnight. Entrance to OktoberFest is free with your Huskie football game ticket (or valid OneCard) and $5 for others.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.