NIU counts only a dozen victories over the perennially troublesome Toledo Rockets, but that number includes the last four meetings between the MAC West rivals.
Coach Rod Carey and the Huskies look to push that winning streak to five at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11, on a Veterans Day game set to honor the team’s 19 seniors as well as current and former members of the military, local first responders and a prominent alum.
Owner of 29 NIU defeats, the Rockets are “good. They’re athletic, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re skilled – everything you’d expect out of a Toledo football team,” Carey says. “It’s November in Illinois. It’s going to be cold. It’s good, though – it’s football. You play outside. It’s a beautiful thing.”
With fireworks during the national anthem and after every NIU touchdown, on-field recognition of U.S. heroes, a halftime commission of the ROTC, the return of Michael “The Burner” Turner and an EPSN2 national broadcast, the coach calls his team “pretty emotionally charged.”
“Every game is always a big game, and we always look forward to playing Toledo. We know the weight that it holds this week so that in itself is going to be a big time game and very important,” defensive end Jason Meehan says. “For us, it’s the last time we’ll play football here. It’ll be a hard day to play. It’s been a long time, and I know all good things come to an end, but you just have to play the game and figure it out after that.”
As always, all students are admitted free with their NIU OneCards. And there’s more: The first 2,000 students to enter on the East Side of Huskie Stadium will receive free hot chocolate and thunderstix.
Students also are invited to wear their most colorful (and warm) costumes and tweet picture of themselves in costume at the game to @NIUAthletics using the hashtag #ColdCostumes. Someone will win an exclusive NIU Athletics experience.
- NIU plans plenty of pre-game partying, including a Veterans Day Parade, live music, an Allstate Interactive Kids Zone and special pricing in the beer garden.
“It’s a huge game,” adds offensive lineman Tyler Pitt. “I’ve been playing here for five years, and it’s finally coming toward the end now, so I really want to go out with a win. It’s always a big game to decide if it can get us into the MAC championship game. We need to come out ready, have our head on straight and get to work.”
For the fifth consecutive season, NIU (7-2, 4-1 MAC) and Toledo (6-3, 5-0) both need to win for a chance to see Detroit in December.
With two excellent teams on the field, the Huskie boss knows it comes down to preparation.
“I never think of if it’s a shootout or anything like that. I just hope we have one more point than the other team at the end of the game,” Carey says. “With their offense and with what we can be on offense, it can go either way. I don’t know low-scoring or high-scoring. I just know that we’re going to have to execute on offense and defense to put ourselves in a good situation.”
Toledo offers some question marks.
Quarterback Logan Woodside suffered a leg injury last week but has not been ruled out for Tuesday night; running back Kareem Hunt is nursing an ankle injury, although he’s told reporters that he will play in DeKalb.
“Their offense doesn’t change so you just have to prepare the same way. They have a capable backup there that got them the win. His stats probably weren’t where he or his team wanted but, but they got the win,” Carey says.
“This league has a lot of good backs this year, but Kareem is his own deal. He’s powerful, he has speed and he had a lot of the same attributes but when I look at them I don’t see the same guy,” he adds. “I see a different guy who’s a really good running back (and) who can make you miss with some good power in there, too.”
NIU wants the “W,” linebacker Michael Santacaterina says.
“Every time we play Toledo, it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a dog fight, and this year will be no different,” he says. “It’s going to be a four-quarter game. They’re a great team. They’re going to come in here with a lot of juice, a lot of energy and ready to play – and we’ll be ready for them.”