Seniors Excel as Northern Illinois Earns Fourth Straight Win

GO HUSKIES Marcus Lewis was one of two seniors to catch his first career touchdown pass for NIU.
Marcus Lewis was one of two seniors to catch his first career touchdown pass for NIU.

Nov. 12, 2009

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DEKALB, Ill. - It was only appropriate that on a night dedicated to the 17 seniors on the Northern Illinois football team, those players would provide the bulk of the scoring in a 26-20 win over Ball State Thursday night at Huskie Stadium.

Senior wide receivers Marcus Lewis and Preston Williams each hauled in their first-career touchdown receptions and kicker Mike Salerno, also playing in his final home game, added his 16th field goal of the season to lead the Huskies to their fifth win at home.

The Huskies won their fourth consecutive game to improve to 7-3 overall, 5-1 in the Mid-American Conference, while Ball State fell to 1-9, 1-5 on the season.

Despite being out-gained on the ground (167-134), through the air (134-91) and in total offense (301-225), the Huskies were whistled for just three penalties, and posted an efficient 13-of-14 passing effort, with DeMarcus Grady and Chandler Harnish sharing the duties behind center. NIU was also solid on the defensive end, forcing Ball State into a combined five field goal tries and/or punts to affect field position.

The Cardinals struck first, finding the end zone in just four offensive plays. A Ball State reverse on the opening play of the game netted Cory Sykes 24 yards. Tailback MiQuale Lewis followed it with a 52-yard rush to bring the Cardinals to the NIU two yard line. Two plays later, Eric Williams scored on a five-yard rush to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead.

NIU tied the game at 7-7 just over five and a half minutes later, capitalizing on a nine-play, 59 yard drive that eclipsed 5:39. Grady found Williams open in the back right corner of the end zone to knot things up as the senior pulled in not only his first career touchdown, but also his first career catch.

Less than one minute later, Jake Coffman gave NIU two more points by recording a safety. After the defense forced an errant snap and a false start penalty on the previous play, NIU's Sean Progar sacked Cardinal quarterback Tanner Justice for a loss of 11 yards, to the two-yard line. The ball bounced back into the end zone, where Lewis prevented the defensive touchdown by diving on the loose ball, giving NIU a temporary 9-7 lead.

A 35-yard run by Nathan Palmer on an end around and a six yard catch on third-and-four by Marcus Lewis keyed the ensuing drive for NIU. Spann finished the drive with his 16th rushing touchdown of the season on a six yard burst to give the Huskies a 16-7 lead.

Cardinal kicker Ian McGarvey connected on field goals of 38 and 31 yards to cut the Northern Illinois lead to three points (16-13) midway through the second quarter. The kicks proved to be the only scoring of an uneventful second stanza, and the Huskies entered the locker room up 16-13.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Chandler Harnish, who had missed the previous three games with a knee injury, returned to action as the second half starter at quarterback for the Huskies. Harnish hit all four of his passes on the drive for 29 yards, helping NIU get into field goal range. Senior Mike Salerno booted his first try of the night through from 41 yards to extend the Huskie lead to six.

The Huskies drove down the field on their next possession, going 34 yards in five plays and scoring on a six-yard fade from Harnish to Marcus Lewis in the right corner of the end zone. It was the first career touchdown catch for Lewis, another senior. The play mirrored a set the Huskies attempted just two plays earlier that drew a pass interference call against the Cardinals.

A sack by Progar on third down the NIU 29 yard line stunted a persistent Ball State drive, forcing the Cardinals to go on fourth down. On fourth-and-13, Justice hit Daniel Ifft for a 29-yard touchdown, closing the gap to 26-20 with 5:27 left in the game.

The next NIU drive stalled on the Huskie 45-yard line, allowing Ball State to regain possession with 2:06 left in the game. The NIU defensive line, particularly nose guard Jake Coffman, put heavy pressure on Justice on each of the next two plays, forcing incompletions. Facing third-and-10, Northern Illinois again brought the heat, but Justice escaped to scamper out of bounds, setting up a game-deciding fourth-and-six.

On that play, Justice delivered a pass to Myles Trempe, who was forced out-of-bounds by Tracy Wilson two yards short of the first down. The stop gave NIU possession and the ability to run the clock down to just two seconds remaining, where Ball State took the ball over on downs, and had one more shot at the end zone.

Justice's pass to Briggs Orsbon was completed to the NIU 35-yard line, but fumbled, and eventually recovered by Brandon Bice to secure the six-point win (26-20) for the Huskies.


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