Huskie Comeback Falls Short at Wisconsin

GO HUSKIES Chad Spann scored two fourth quarter touchdowns against Wisconsin.
GO HUSKIES
Chad Spann scored two fourth quarter touchdowns against Wisconsin.
GO HUSKIES

Sept. 5, 2009

PHOTO GALLERY

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MADISON, Wisc - Chad Spann scored a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and recovered an onside kick, but Northern Illinois' late comeback at Wisconsin fell short as the Huskies dropped a 28-20 decision to the Badgers in the 2009 season-opener for both schools.

Chandler Harnish's fourth-down pass to Kyle Skarb from the Wisconsin 36-yard line was broken up to put an end to the Huskies' final hopes. That play came after Spann's onside kick recovery gave Northern Illinois possession on its own 44-yard line.

Earlier in the quarter, Spann scored on runs of one and two yards as NIU came back from a 28-6 deficit in the final period. Following Spann's second touchdown at 2:37 on the clock, Harnish added the two-point conversion to pull the Huskies within eight.

"The best thing was the kids never quit," said NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill. "They continued to play hard and as the game went on, we got better. Half the people we brought on this trip had never traveled before, so we'll take a lot out of this game, we'll learn from it and we'll get better."

Harnish finished with 174 yards on 15-of-24 passing. He completed passes of 31 and 27 yards to fullback Kyle Skarb and tight end Bryan Beckner, respectively. Skarb led the Huskies with three catches for 42 yards and Harnish pointed to their 31-yard hook-up as the fourth-quarter turning point for the offense.

That play, on NIU's first possession of the fourth quarter, began the Huskies' first touchdown drive, which also included runs of 12 yards by Harnish and 13 by Spann.

Northern Illinois' second touchdown came after linebacker Cory Hanson intercepted his second pass of the game, giving the Huskies the ball on the Wisconsin 31-yard line. Harnish hit Beckner, who caught his first passes since 2007, for 14 yards and Spann picked up 17 yards on a screen pass, to key the NIU drive.

"I thought Chandler played very well," Kill said. "He took some shots, he made some good throws and played well in a hostile environment."

Prior to the fourth quarter, the Huskies could manage just a pair of Mike Salerno field goals, of 40 and 29 yards. Still, those kicks, along with a gritty effort by the NIU defense, saw Northern Illinois go into halftime down just 14-6.

Wisconsin extended the lead to 21-6 on its first drive of the second half with an 11-play, 92-yard drive capped by a John Clay one-yard run. After the Huskies went three and out on their next possession, the Badgers extended their lead to 28-6 with a 12-play, 67-yard drive with Clay again scoring from the one.

The Badgers finished the day with 152 rushing yards on 38 carries, but did more damage through the air as starting quarterback and Chicagoland native Scott Tolzien completed 15-of-20 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown. That score came on UW's very first play from scrimmage as Tolzien hit a wide-open Isaac Anderson on an 80-yard touchdown play.

"They scored early and we had some mental errors, on offense as well as defense," Kill said. "The defensive kids played hard, they were on the field a lot at certain times. We've got to execute better on both sides of the ball."

Safety Tracy Wilson led the Huskie defense with 11 tackles, while Patrick George and Mike Sobol added seven stops apiece.

Northern Illinois plays Western Illinois in its 2009 home opener next Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Huskie Stadium. Tickets are available for $20 for the general public and can be purchased online at www.niuhuskies.com or by calling the NIU Athletics Ticket Office at 815-752-6800.

-- NIU --