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Football ready for post-Thanksgiving ‘row’ in Kalamazoo

November 26, 2014
Rod Carey

Rod Carey

So it all comes down to this.

Rod Carey and the NIU Huskie football team will work off their turkey dinners Friday morning in Kalamazoo, where the final game of the regular season means everything.

Carey and Co. must beat NIU alum P.J. Fleck’s Western Michigan Broncos to win the Mid-American Conference West Division and earn their ticket the Dec. 5 Marathon MAC Championship in Detroit.

“It would mean a lot to the fifth-year guys, obviously. We all know that if we win this game, we win the MAC West. It’s pretty obvious; you don’t have to spend a lot of time hammering it but it’s something that we talk about,” Carey says.

“This group of seniors is really responsible for a lot of the success that we’ve had and are having. I think they really want that, and so it’s been something they’re busting their tail to try and get – and it’s right in front of them now,” he adds.

“This team knows how to work. I think that’s our biggest attribute. They aren’t satisfied with what’s in the past. They’re always trying to work toward the future, and that’s what I think this team is and what I think we have to continue to be day to day.”

A fifth consecutive trip to Ford Field is “a great opportunity,” tight end Luke Eakes confirms, but it will require the team to not look for the bright lights that shine beyond Friday’s 60-minute challenge.

“We need to just focus on the game, not the championship possibility; last time we did that, we lost. We just need to stay focused on beating Western,” Eakes says. “It’s like a playoff game for us, so we just need to shut up and play, week in and week out.”

Akeem Daniels

Akeem Daniels

NIU’s mentality heading to Kalamazoo for a must-win contest is no different than any weak of the season, tailback and fifth-year senior Akeem Daniels adds.

“You treat each game the same way going in. You work hard, watch a lot of film in preparation and go out to play on game day. We just want to become 1-0 this week,” Daniels says. “Where we’re at in the season (is) a time when everyone has to give a little bit more than you did last week, come out aggressive, execute our plays … (we) can’t make any dumb decisions at this point.”

Winning won’t come easy.

Fleck, whose Broncos went 1-11 in his first season, are 8-3 this year, and they’re rowing their boats on the friendly home turf of Waldo Stadium.

Pumped up yet? Kickoff for the #MACtion is scheduled for 10 a.m. Central Time. Huskie fans not making the road trip can watch the game on ESPNU or listen to the play-by-play on AM-560 from Chicago or 92.5-FM from DeKalb.

Carey, who rates his NIU run defense “good, not great” during the past few games, is aware of the threats posed by WMU running back Jarvion Franklin.

Franklin is “big, physical, has good feet, downhill type of guy. If you let him get a head of steam, he has good steam and he can really play physical. He’s just a good running back in a long line of really good running backs in this conference this year. It’s more than I can remember in my time in the MAC in any one given year,” Carey says.

Dechane Durante

Dechane Durante

“He’s a big back that has good feet and speed, and as the season has gone on, his pad level has gotten lower because, as a freshman, you tend to run taller because you could in high school,” the coach says. “The experience has done well for him.”

Playing defense is “trying to not let them score points” and “not about not letting them get yards,” he adds. “If you have a team in third and eight, you can’t let them off of the hook. You have to make them punt or line up for a field goal. That’s probably what we’ve been doing better the past few weeks.”

Safety Dechane Durante calls the Bronocs “one of the best offenses in the MAC right now and all season.”

“They have a really good running back and a really good receiver that makes a lot of big plays for them down the field. They have a lot of explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball. I’m looking forward to the challenge of stopping them,” Durante says. “We go into every game with a goal of stopping the run and keeping them under 100 rushing yards. After the Central game, we had to come with more tenacity in stopping the run – not changing things; just making a point and executing.”

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