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Football returns Saturday to Huskie Stadium after tough road loss in MAC schedule opener

October 5, 2011
Chandler Harnish

Chandler Harnish

Coach Dave Doeren and the NIU Huskie football team play at home Saturday afternoon, a week after a tough loss at Central Michigan.

The 2:30 p.m. battle vs. Kent State (1-4) is the first of two Mid-American Conference home games for the Huskies (2-3). NIU leads the overall series with Kent State 15-7, notching nine of those victories at home and riding a four-game winning streak.

As with all NIU Huskies sporting events, students are admitted free with their NIU OneCards.

Despite falling just short in Mt. Pleasant after a late-game surge, last week did see NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish break three more Northern Illinois career records. Harnish now owns the career mark for passing yards and 300-yard passing games.

Meanwhile, Doeren said the team is “on its way to much better things.”

“Right now, we’re a 2-3 team that lost two very close football games,” Doeren said.

“Like I told the guys, you don’t get to take plays back. But if you make four or five different plays, you’re a 4-1 team and everyone is patting you on the back. Reality of it is you’re a 2-3 team that fighting hard for what we want,” he added.

“For whatever reason, we’ve been through some very difficult games this season. I know we’ve grown as a team from them. We had a great meeting as a team when we got back here. I still believe, and all the players on this team, believe in the coaches on our staff. I haven’t lost one ounce of what I’m trying to do.”

Kent State’s defense will challenge the Huskies.

The Flashes are among the top five teams in the nation creating takeaways, Doeren said, and NIU’s “offense is excited about playing a team that runs around like they do.”

“They do a lot of things movement-wise. They’ve got a couple special players; they’re well-coached,” he said. “They do a great job of getting to the ball and creating plays. They strip it, punch it, rip it; all things that good defenses do.

Harnish expects an entertaining game for MAC fans.

“Kent State’s a great defense. I think they were fifth in the country last year in total defense at the end of the year,” Harnish said.

“They have some great players – Roosevelt Nix – and have some pretty good linebackers. Even their secondary flies around. You watched the Alabama game; they forced Alabama into three interceptions. They’re definitely a good defense; huge challenge for us,” he added. “But we like to think we’re a pretty good offense. I think you probably have the top defense versus the top offense in the conference. We’re excited, and definitely need to bring our A+ game this weekend.”

Martel Moore

Martel Moore

Wide receiver Martel Moore is equally eager for Saturday.

“I’ve been thinking about our mistakes, and all the points we left off the board. I moved on to Kent State right away. The slate of games is fixed; we just have to take one at a time now,” Moore said.

“It’s a seven-game stretch. We have to be us. And being us is playing fast, playing to the best of our abilities. We have talent on both offense and defense. Basically, we need to go out there, be us, and these games will come easy to us. As long as we play hard, loose, and together, offense and defense, on and off the field, we’ll be all right.”

Yet it’s the Northern Illinois defense prompting questions for most Huskie fans.

Doeren is neither worried nor panicking, however.

“Our defense is not producing the way I’d like them to produce … we need to make more plays on that side of the ball, and we will. Our coaches and players are dedicated to the task of making that happen,” Doeren said. “I’m in this for the long haul. There’s a big picture here for our program that we’re building. Our players are very prideful guys about being Huskies. We want to go out on the field and make people proud about what we’re doing.”

Linebacker Pat Schiller, a leader on the Huskie defense, said the squad isn’t looking to deflect criticism.

Rather, “it really comes down to everyone playing assignment football. Like I’ve said, the coaches put us in position to win every single week. It’s up to the players to execute their assignments,” Schiller said.

“We’ve shown that when we execute our assignments, we’re pretty good. When we don’t, it creates holes in our defense, and offenses will take advantage of that. You can’t really excuse it away. Bottom line, we practice, and we should make those plays whether we’re playing a triple-option offense or a spread offense.”

Saturday’s Hall of Fame game also will see the induction of former NIU and Naperville North Star wide receiver Justin McCareins, who spent six seasons in the NFL with the Titans and Jets.

McCareins owns the Northern Illinois career records for catches, receiving yards and touchdown catches, is among the inductees.

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