Nov. 25, 2008
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DeKALB - Despite matching Navy in almost every statistical category, the Northern Illinois football team fell 16-0 to the Midshipmen Tuesday night at Huskie Stadium.
Turnovers proved to be the biggest difference in the game, as the Huskies (6-6, 5-3 Mid-American Conference) threw two interceptions, and Navy did not turn the ball over despite two fumbles.
"We turned it over a couple of times and didn't get it back," NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. "You can't do that against Navy."
Tuesday's game marked the first time in 115 contests that Northern Illinois has been shutout. The last time the Huskies were unable to put points on the board came in 1999, when Iowa defeated NIU, 24-0, in Iowa City.
The turnover trouble started early for the Huskies. Northern Illinois' opening drive went 54 yards on eight plays, but ended abruptly when redshirt freshman Chandler Harnish was intercepted by Rashawn King. Navy turned the pick into a 19-play, 81-yard drive and the game's first points, a 27-yard field goal from Matt Harmon.
The Huskies' next drive stalled after eight plays, when a third-down play that was initially ruled a first down catch by Greg Turner was overturned, and the Huskies were forced to punt.
The Midshipmen took over on their own 15-yard line. After seven consecutive rushes, Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs threw his only completed pass of the game, a 32-yard strike to Greg Shinego. The toss put Navy on NIU's four-yard line, and two plays later, Dobbs scored on a one-yard touchdown rush. A botched hold on the extra point attempt left Northern Illinois in a 9-0 hole, a score that held into halftime.
The NIU defense opened the second half with a sturdy stand, forcing Navy into a three-and-out. The Huskies moved the ball from their own 12 effectively down field, with Harnish completing three passes for 37 yards. But the Huskies' second turnover of the game doomed the drive, as Emmet Merchant snatched a pass from Harnish and returned it 29 yards to set-up Navy on the Northern Illinois 36-yard line.
The Midshipmen ran the ball 10 straight times, eventually punching into the endzone on a one-yard rush from Eric Kettani to put Navy up 16-0 with 5:26 left in the third.
In total offense, the teams were near equals, with the Midshipmen (7-4, Independent) gaining 294 yards to Northern Illinois' 251. Both teams ran 57 plays and each punted just twice in a game that saw only 14 total possessions. Despite an 11-minute Navy drive in the first quarter, the difference in time of possession was less than a minute.
The game was the last at Huskie Stadium for 20 seniors, including 2007 MAC Most Valuable Player Larry English.
"This team would not have succeeded without the leadership of the seniors," Harnish said. "This team put NIU back on the map."