Oct. 25, 2008
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DeKALB - Junior Mike Salerno (Orland Park, Ill./Sandburg/Winona State) kicked a 30-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining to give Northern Illinois a 16-13 victory over Bowling Green, Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
Salerno's field goal came after Landon Cox (Calumet City, Ill./Thornton Fractional North) blocked a Falcon punt late in the fourth quarter with the game tied 13-13. Northern Illinois downed the ball at the BGSU 37-yard line and took over with less than five minutes remaining.
"The coaches always tell us to make a play and be a difference maker," Cox said. "I wanted to be that guy today."
After Cox's block, the Huskies ran the ball on the next seven plays, setting up Salerno's game-winner.
"There was no extra pressure that I felt," Salerno said. "It is my job to make the kicks for this team."
Northern Illinois' ground game racked-up 233 yards, including a career-high 113 from quarterback Chandler Harnish (Bluffton, Ind./Norwell). He became the first NIU quarterback since Stacey Robinson in 1990 to rush for over 100 yards in a game. Freshman tailback Me'co Brown (Moss Point, Miss./Moss Point) accounted for 95 yards on 20 attempts, while sophomore Chad Spann (Indianapolis, Ind./North Central) ran the ball 15 times for 36 yards, and scored NIU's only touchdown.
"Today's win was yet another tremendous team effort," NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. "We had three critical possessions in the second half, and we managed to score on all three by running the ball."
Spann's score capped a persistent 17-play, 80-yard drive that opened the second half and devoured 10:06 from the clock. The touchdown put the Huskies in front, 10-6, with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Bowling Green answered with its lone touchdown, an 18-yard strike from Tyler Sheehan to Marques Parks. With the score, the Falcons retook the lead, 13-10, with 1:13 left in the third.
The Huskies took over on their own 20 on the next series, but ran into a third-and-eight on the 50-yard line. Harnish completed a pass to Brown, who broke a tackle and gained 10 yards to keep the drive alive. Seven plays later, Salerno booted a 25-yard field goal to tie the game, 13-13, with 8:08 remaining. Cox's blocked punt came seven plays later, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Salerno not only finished the game's scoring, he started it. The junior tied a school record with a 52-yard yard field goal on the Huskies' first drive.
Cox became the fifth NIU player to block a punt this season. Spencer Williamson (Elkhart, Ind./Central) deflected the Falcons' first try of the game, which went just 32 yards.
"Our special teams scheme goes back to when I coached at Southern Illinois," Kill said. "Back then, we committed to developing a great special teams squad as we refused to be beat by poor special teams play. I think that same mentality and toughness has carried over well to NIU."
The Huskie defense had another stellar outing, holding Bowling Green to just 168 yards of total offense. Sheehan was limited to just 92 yards passing, despite completing 15-of-21 attempts. The Falcons also struggled to move the ball on the ground, rushing 22 times for just 76 yards.
"Even though we gave up more yards than we would like, the defense was successful because the offense did a good job of controlling the ball," Kill said.
The Northern Illinois offense held the ball for over 38 minutes, helped by scoring drives of 10 and eight minutes.
The Huskies hit the road for the first time in over a month, when they face undefeated Ball State, Wednesday, Nov. 5. The game will be televised by ESPN2, with kick-off set for 7 p.m.