Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish led the Huskies on a game-winning touchdown drive with less than five minutes on the clock and senior defensive end Jake Coffman intercepted Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder on the NIU 12-yard line with 39 seconds on the clock to give Northern Illinois a 28-21 victory over WMU at Waldo Stadium.
The win was Northern Illinois’ sixth-straight, its longest winning streak since 2004, and improved the Huskies’ record to 7-2 overall, 5-0 in the Mid-American Conference. Western Michigan fell to 3-5, 2-2 in the MAC.
“This was a great college football game,” said NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill. “The teams were well-matched, and both sides played their guts out with great football on both sides. The game went back and forth and in the end we made a few more plays than they did. I’m most excited about Chandler Harnish taking us down in a critical situation to get the score.”
Harnish and the Huskies began the game-winning drive with 5:56 left in the game after WMU had taken a 21-20 lead on a 23-yard pass from Carder to Robert Arnheim. The touchdown marked the first points given up by NIU in the second half since the Akron game on Oct. 2 – four games ago.
Harnish, who completed 18-of-30 passes for 214 yards on the day, began the drive by hitting Nathan Palmer on a 35-yard pass to the Western Michigan 44-yard line. He hit Willie Clark and Martel Moore on completions of 10 and 12 yards for first downs before Clark made a leaping grab at the goal line with 3:42 remaining to put NIU back on top, 26-21. Harnish then hit Nate Palmer with a two-point conversion pass to give the Huskies a seven-point cushion.
“There was a lot of confidence by our guys [on the last drive],” Harnish said. “The guys expected to go down and score.”
“We were all ready to make a play,” said NIU tailback Chad Spann. “There was a lot of energy, everyone was in sync and we were focused.”
Palmer ended the day with five catches for 83 yards including a nine-yard touchdown in the third quarter, while Clark led Northern Illinois with seven catches for 70 yards and the game-winning score.
Northern Illinois took its first lead of the game on the first drive of the second half as Harnish took the Huskies 80 yards in seven plays and 3:52, hitting Palmer on the slant for the score. The big play on the drive was a 44-yard run by Chad Spann to the WMU 11-yard line. After the Michael Cklamovski PAT, Northern Illinois led 20-14.
Spann ran for 146 yards on 22 carries on the day to record his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. The senior from Indianapolis reached the 100-yard mark for the fourth-straight game and reached the 1,000-yard mark on the season for the second straight year. Spann has exactly 1,000 yards on 182 carries on the season and posted the 11th 1,000-yard rushing season by a Northern Illinois running back in the last 12 years.
In addition to Coffman’s interception, the Huskie defense came up with two critical fourth-down stops in the red zone in the second half. In the third quarter, Western Michigan drove to the Northern Illinois 15 and lined up to kick a field goal which would have cut the NIU lead to 20-17. But the Huskies had an offsides penalty and WMU elected to go for the first down on fourth-and-one from the 11. Carder’s pass to Blake Hammond fell incomplete as the tight end was well-covered by the Huskies on the play.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos advanced to the NIU 8 with 8:39 left in the game. On fourth-and four, Carder’s pass to Juan Nunez did not connect and the Huskies took over.
Carder completed 31-of-53 passes for 360 yards and three touchdowns on the day, hitting Jordan White 14 times for 180 yards.
NIU next takes on Toledo in its final home game of the 2010 season. The Rockets visit Huskie Stadium on Tuesday, Nov. 9 in an ESPN2 match-up that will pit the top two teams in the MAC West Division as neither team has suffered a loss in the league.
Tickets for the NIU-Toledo game are on sale through the NIU Athletics Tickets Office in the Convocation Center, by calling 815-752-6800 or online at www.NIUHuskies.com. The game will mark Senior Day for Northern Illinois and all fans are encouraged to wear black for the annual “Black Out” game.
by Donna Turner