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Football to battle for Bronze Stalk in Muncie

October 3, 2012
Sean Progar

Sean Progar

With only eight seconds left on the clock at Huskie Stadium and the score tied at 38 last November, sophomore kicker Mathew Sims booted a 34-yard field goal lift Northern Illinois to victory over Ball State.

NIU had rallied from a 17-point deficit in the third quarter to earn its sixth consecutive win and claim the Bronze Stalk.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, Ball State (3-2, 1-1 MAC) will look to turn the tables at its home Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind. ESPN3 will broadcast the game as NIU (4-1, 1-0 MAC) aims for its fifth straight win in its second road game of 2012.

Northern Illinois has won 13 of its last 14 games, losing only the 2012 season opener by one point to Iowa, and 16 of its last 17 Mid-American Conference games over the last three seasons.

Ball State is “a team that I have a great amount of respect for. For us, it’s going to be a tough road game,” NIU head coach Dave Doeren said.

The Cardinals, who posted wins over BCS teams Indiana and Clemson this season, put up 557 yards in defeat last week against Kent State’s formidable defense. BSU holds a 20-17-2 lead in the series with NIU, with the Muncie tally tied at nine games each.

“I know they had a tough loss last week, and I know they’re going to be champing at the bit to get back in a game with us. They played us for 60 minutes, all the way down until the final kick last year. We know that this is a must-win game for them having one loss in the conference,” Doeren said.

“I think they do a great job offensively,” he added. “They’re throwing about as well as any team in our conference can throw. I think it’s not just what (Keith) Wenning is doing with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, but the receivers, Sneed and Smith, are great playmakers.”

Keith Harris Jr.

Keith Harris Jr.

Wenning, Doeren said, is “very accurate, knows their offense, gets rid of the football, has good protection. He’s a tall kid. He’s well-coached, and knows where to go with the football. He’s got good playmakers around him just like Jordan does here. It’s not like you take away one guy and you’ve got nothing. He’s got a tight end; he’s got three receivers he’s got two backs. There are people out there that make him better.”

Of course, NIU brings it own explosive offense to the field.

The Huskies scored a season-high 55 points last week, including 21 in the fourth quarter, for a 55-24 MAC opening win over Central Michigan. Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch ranks 12th nationally in rushing with 116.4 yards per game and is the No. 1 rushing QB in the nation.

Even the special teams got into the action: Sims scored a rushing touchdown on a fake field goal.

“Coach told me right on Tuesday, told me were going to run it, and we practiced it all week and executed it on Game Day,” Sims said. “We have a different fake every week, and that just happened to be the fake we put in this week that we knew would work. (Punter Ryan) Neir and I knew we were both going to run it, so we were ready.”

From Sims’ fake field goal and Neir’s fake punt to Sean Progar’s interception and Dechane Durante’s recovery of a fumble he forced, all three phases “picked each other up at very valuable times in the game,” Doeren said.

“I loved the way we ran the football. I think when you can run the ball for 400 yards, that’s a statement,” the coach said. “It wasn’t like we ran one play over and over and over that they couldn’t stop. It was a bunch of different things that we did from formations, shifts, motions, to just blocking people, getting a hat on a hat, straining, breaking tackles, having good vision and blocking downfield at the receiver position.”

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