GO HUSKIES Indiana native Chandler Harnish orchestrated the Huskies' upset of Purdue.
Indiana native Chandler Harnish orchestrated the Huskies' upset of Purdue.

Sept. 19, 2009

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Northern Illinois (2-1) used a powerful rushing attack, a stalwart defense and a gutsy call to claim its first win over a Big Ten Conference team in 21 years with a 28-21 victory over Purdue (1-2) at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.

Sophomore Me'co Brown rushed for a career-high 150 yards on 26 carries and scored on a 67-yard run, while Indianapolis native Chad Spann scored a pair of touchdowns and gained 80 yards on 18 carries to key the Huskies' rushing attack. Northern Illinois totaled 280 yards on 57 tries on the day to average 4.9 yards per rush.

Northern Illinois won its second-ever game against a team from the Big Ten and its first in 20 tries. Behind Bluffton, Ind. native Chandler Harnish at quarterback, the NIU offense controlled the clock as they held the ball for nearly 42 minutes in the game, 41:40 to 18:20 for Purdue, including a 20:52-9:08 edge in the second half.

"It was a hard-nosed, physical game," said NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill. "It is a great win for the school and the players. I am proud of our guys. We will enjoy this one a little bit, but come Sunday after we watch the film, we'll start getting ready for next week."

"It's a real speechless feeling," Harnish said. "I had a lot of family and friends in town and it was special to win in front of them. I am really proud of our team and the way we responded."

The Huskie defense also came up big, forcing six punts and five "three and outs" in the game. Purdue tailback Ralph Bolden, who came into the game as the nation's leading rusher, was held to 64 yards on 12 carries. The Boilermakers totaled just four first downs and 74 total yards in the first half.

"The defensive staff and players deserve a lot of the credit," Kill said. "They played hard-nosed football and everyone filled their gaps well. Overall, we played very disciplined football."

Offensively, Northern Illinois was six-of 10 on third downs conversions in the first half while building a 21-7 lead on the strength of three second-quarter touchdowns.

"Third-down conversions were a real key for us," Harnish said. "We were able to keep their offense off the field. I am also extremely proud of how our offensive line played. We showed that we can move the ball down the field. The offensive line played out of this world in this environment, and Me'co Brown and Chad Spann had some incredible runs. "

Trailing 7-0 after Purdue scored on a 62-yard punt return by Aaron Valentin, Spann tied the game on a one-yard touchdown run to close out a methodical 14-play, 62-yard drive that consumed 6:46 on the clock. One possession later, Brown went for the quick strike as he followed his blocking around the right side, juked a defender and scored on a career-long 67-yard run to put the Huskies ahead for good.

Late in the half, the Huskies took advantage of the second muffed punt of the day by Purdue's Aaron Valentin as Kiaree Daniels recovered the ball on the Purdue 23. Three plays later, Harnish hit senior Reed Cunningham in the corner of the end zone for a 10-yard score and a 21-7 NIU halftime lead.

Defenses dominated the early part of the third quarter before Northern Illinois embarked on a 13-play, 72-yard drive that took 6:15 off the clock with Spann scoring from 11 yards out for the 28-7 NIU lead.

That 21-point edge was short-lived as Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott found a seam in the NIU defense on first-and-10 from the Purdue 42 and ran 58 yards to close the gap to 28-14 at the end of the third quarter.

On its second possession of the final quarter, Northern Illinois drove to the Purdue seven thanks largely to a 41-yard hook-up between Harnish and fullback Kyle Skarb, but Huskie kicker Mike Salerno was wide right on a 25-yard field goal and Purdue's hopes were still alive.

The Boilermakers drove 80 yards in 11 plays, with Elliott scoring his second touchdown on a six-yard run with 5:42 remaining.

After a penalty on the kickoff, the Huskies took over on their own eight-yard line. Three plays resulted in just eight yards, giving NIU a fourth and two on their own 16. From punt formation, snapper Nolan Owen snapped the ball to up-back Justin Anderson, who rushed 11 yards for a critical first down. The Huskies drove all the way to the NIU 47, taking almost all the time off the clock before Salerno punted to the end zone.

"A call like that a lot of times can get you fired, but our staff and I made the call," Kill said. "We have worked on that play for a few weeks now. It was one of the more gutsy calls I have made in my career."

With only 18 seconds on the clock, Purdue could reach only its own 49 and NIU celebrated a landmark victory.

Northern Ilinois returns to Huskie Stadium next week to face Idaho in its final non-conference contest of the season. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. and tickets are available on-line through the tickets link at or by calling the NIU Athletics Ticket Office during the week at 815-752-6800.

-- NIU --

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