So it’s all come to this.
A few short-but-busy months since Coach Dave Doeren and his Huskies visited Detroit before their 9-3 season began, they’re back to finish it in the biggest fashion possible at the 2011 Marathon MAC Championship.
“We laughed about it in the postgame the other night – how long ago it seemed like we were there for the preseason event,” Doeren says.
“I just remember vividly the look on our guys’ faces when we walked into that building, and how much they wanted to be back. To be able to help them get there, (I’m) very excited.”
Only a year ago, the 2010 championship was snatched from their fingers in the final minute. That memory is just as fresh, the coach says.
“You can see the pain. You can see the intensity. You can see the disappointment. As people talked to them, you could also see their focus on wanting to be back,” Doeren says. “They were like, ‘Ah, can you believe we lost that game.’ I know they have an intense desire to wipe that slate clean and say that they are the MAC champs. Fortunately we have that opportunity.”
“We have unfinished business in Detroit. We’re just going up there with a business-like mentality,” linebacker Jordan Delegal says. “As a senior class, we’re ready to end this the right way. Not even do it for us, but for the rest of the team. For Huskie Nation out there, it’s been 28 years since the last one. It’s about time.”
Wide receiver Nathan Palmer says he and his teammates are in a better place this year.
“Last year, we kind of went through the MAC where we didn’t have too many tough games. We got in that game last year and didn’t know how to respond to being down and being in a fight,” Palmer says.
“This year, we’ve been in a lot of close battles, and the MAC’s better this year. I think coming out of this year’s season, having come from behind to win, and being on top and closing out close games, I think we’re more prepared for anything.”
Kick-off versus the MAC East champion Ohio Bobcats is 6 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Working behind the arm and legs of record-setting quarterback Chandler Harnish, NIU looks to earn its eighth straight win and post 10 victories for the second consecutive year.
A Friday night win also would make this year’s Huskies the first group in 28 years to achieve that goal.
But it won’t be easy.
Since their first meeting with Ohio in 1968 to their most recent meeting in 2009, the overall series is tied 9-9. Ohio has won the last two games, and the teams have never met on neutral territory.
““We’re playing a very, very good team; a very well-coached team; a team that has, like us, very good playmakers,” he says. “Our guys have to not beat themselves and play extremely well to be in a four-quarter game with a team as good as Ohio. It looks statistically, other than turnover margin, they’re one of the best teams in the country. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The Bobcats bring an explosive offense, a solid defense and a prolific kicker, he says.
“Harden is going to be a 1,000-yard rusher, potentially, here before the year’s over. Their kicker is one of the all-time scoring leaders. Their quarterback has broken 11 single-season records. Their receiver, Brazill, could be the only receiver in school history to hit 1,000 yards,” Doeren says.
“Their offense is putting up 500 yards a game almost every week. We have a challenge, obviously, a huge challenge handling their skill not just with our defense, but with our special teams. Those guys are returners for them as well,” he adds.
“They definitely tackle well, chase the football and do a good job mixing up coverages and pressures. It’s going to be a great game on both sides of the ball. People watching the game will have the privilege of watching two really good quarterbacks play. I have the utmost respect for Coach Solich, so competing against him for me will be a privilege and an honor in itself.”
“That’s why I’m here. I came here to win championships. That’s the one that we can win this year. That’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, we want to be the MAC West champion, and if we can win the whole thing every year, that’s our No. 1 goal,” he said. “As a head coach, whenever you’re the conference champion, that’s the best you can do.”
Doeren is equally confident in his players, many of whom earned top end-of-the-season honors this week from the Mid-American Conference.
And he has a couple assignments.
Be who you are. Stay centered.
“I want us to be who we are. We’re not going to be any different. We’re an energetic, passionate bunch of guys that love playing football. That’s what we’ll be in Detroit; that’s what we’ve been all year,” he says.
“I know there’s going to be a lot of energy and excitement, but the big thing you have to be careful of is being too excited. You have to just play the game and not let it get away from you. We’ll have to play for four quarters, and you can’t lose your energy in 30 seconds. It’s just another game. It’s the most important one, obviously, because for what it is. We have to play our best and stay focused.”