Northern Illinois won its ninth-straight game and the outright Mid-American Conference West Division title with a dominating 71-3 victory over Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium on Friday afternoon.
“The big thing is I am proud the team – they have gone to Ball State and Eastern Michigan in some tough atmospheres and they just like playing football,” NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. “It doesn’t seem to matter what else is going on with weather or crowd. We’ve got 10 wins and we did it with only five home games and no one else in the country can say that.”
The Huskies completed a 10-2 regular season and finished 8-0 in conference play, completing its first undefeated MAC season in school history. Eastern Michigan finished the season 2-10 overall and 2-6 in the conference.
It was a record-setting day for the Huskies as NIU rushed for season highs in rushing yards with 544 and touchdowns with eight, including TD runs of 71, 81, 61, 61 and 74 yards. The Huskies’ rushing total ranks second all-time in school history and is the highest in the NCAA Division I FBS ranks this year. NIU amassed a season-high 642 yards of total offense which ties for fourth all-time in NIU history and its 10 touchdowns ties the modern record for touchdowns scored in a game.
Leading the way for the Huskie ground attack was redshirt freshman Jordan Lynch, who rushed for 142 yards on just two carries, ripping off touchdown runs of 81 and 61 yards in the third quarter. Junior Jasmin Hopkins followed with 104 yards on four carries including a 74-yard TD. Michigan native DeMarcus Grady had a strong performance, rushing for 91 yards on two carries with touchdown runs of 61 and 30 yards.
Northern Illinois raced out to an early 20-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked. The Huskies opened the scoring on the first play of its second possession when tailback Chad Spann burst through the line and rushed 71 yards for a touchdown.
A Jake Coffman sack and forced fumble of Eastern Michigan quarterback Alex Gillett on Eastern Michigan’s following possession set up the Huskies’ second touchdown of the game as Ricky Crider scored on a 22-yard scamper to give the Huskies a 13-0 lead. A two-yard Spann touchdown run capped the scoring for the Huskies in the first quarter and gave NIU a 20-0 lead.
Spann finished the day with 88 yards on seven carries and two touchdowns, as he broke the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 20 after tying the record a year ago.
After a Sean Graham field goal made the score 20-3, quarterback Chandler Harnish connected with Willie Clark on two touchdown passes to increase NIU’s advantage to 34-3. A 38-yard field goal by Michael Cklamovski gave the Huskies a 37-3 lead heading into halftime.
Harnish, who only played in the first half, finished the day with 101 yards on 8-of-13 passing and two touchdowns, while rushing for 32 yards on three carries. Willie Clark led all receivers with a game-high 65 yards on five receptions and two touchdowns. The Huskies only attempted one pass in the second half.
Northern Illinois’ defense was stout, allowing 160 yards of total offense, including just 11 yards passing by the Eagles. Coffman led the way for the Huskie defensive unit finishing with five tackles, all solo, including a sack, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, while Pat Schiller led the team in tackles with six. NIU also recorded a season high 10 tackles for loss.
“There is no question that is as fast as I’ve seen our defense play all year,” Kill said. “We looked like we played with a lot more speed today. It’s a good momentum builder.”
“It’s definitely been a special year with a lot of guys stepping up and a lot of young guys stepping up,” Coffman said. “We are playing really well right now. I am kind of speechless. I’m just so happy I came back.”
The Huskies will face MAC East Champion Miami (OH) in the 2010 Marathon MAC Championship Friday, December 3 at Ford Field in Detroit. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. CST and can be seen on ESPN2. To order tickets, log on to NIUHuskies.com or call 815-752-6800.
by Joe Summins