Bulldogs Overcome Huskies To Take Independence Bowl

GO HUSKIES Chandler Harnish sprints past offensive tackle Trevor Olson for a first-quarter first down against Louisiana Tech.
GO HUSKIES
Chandler Harnish sprints past offensive tackle Trevor Olson for a first-quarter first down against Louisiana Tech.
GO HUSKIES

Dec. 28, 2008

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SHREVEPORT, La. - Northern Illinois out-gained Louisiana Tech in rushing, passing and total offense at the 33rd Annual Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., but committed a season-high three turnovers and gave up a momentum-turning 97-yard kickoff return to drop a 17-10 decision to the Bulldogs Sunday night.

Philip Livas' 97-yard kickoff return with 1:43 left in the first quarter proved to be the difference-maker in a defensive struggle at Independence Stadium. The kickoff return was the first surrendered by the Huskies since the 2007 Central Michigan game.

The play came immediately after Northern Illinois had scored the game's first touchdown on an eight-yard completion from quarterback Chandler Harnish to fullback Kyle Skarb. That play capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive that exhausted 5:50 on the clock as Northern Illinois dominated time of possession in the first quarter, 11:46 to 3:14.

"We went down and scored, we had the momentum and he took it the distance and it changed the whole game," Kill said. "It was a big momentum-changer right there, no question about that. We played well enough offensively and defensively, but we got beat in the kicking game."

Louisiana Tech took the lead for good on their next possession. After a 15-yard punt by Mike Salernogave La Tech field position at the NIU 42-yard line, the Bulldogs took just five plays to go ahead 14-7 with Daniel Porter's 24-yard pick-up on the screen the big play. Porter scored from 11 yards out and finished the game with 78 yards on 18 carries.

Tech threatened again at the end of the half after NIU fumbled the ball on a punt return. But Brad Oestriecher's 41-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Huskie nose guard Mike Krause, the first blocked field goal for NIU since 2005. The half ended with Tech holding a 14-7 lead.

The Bulldogs took a 17-7 lead on their first drive of the second half as they went 49 yards in eight plays before stalling at the NIU 13-yard line. From there, Oestriecher hit a 33-yard field goal.

The Huskies answered with a 10-play, 86-yard drive of their own. Harnish hit Marcus Perez with a 40-yard pass play to the La Tech eight but the drive stalled and Mike Salernohit a 20-yard field goal to close the margin to seven points again.

From there, neither team could gain an advantage and both defenses forced punts and turnovers as neither team scored the rest of the way.

"We recovered from the turnovers pretty well," Kill said. "They made plays and we didn't. We did everything we needed to do to win the game, we just didn't win the game. The whole team played hard all game and I'm proud of them to end up in a bowl game after a 2-10 season is fantastic."

Northern Illinois collected 17 first downs' to Louisiana Tech's 12, gained 153 rushing yards to Tech's 92 and passed for 186 yards compared to the Bulldogs' 144.

Chad Spann gained 79 yards on 14 carries to lead the Huskie rushing attack while Harnish had 12 carries for 61 yards and passed for 186 yards, completing 20-of-40 passes. Matt Simoncaught six passes for 44 yards in his final game as a Huskie while Perez had two catches for 44 yards. Ten different players caught passes for NIU.

"We appreciate the opportunity to come to the Independence Bowl," Kill said. "Even though we didn't get the win today, we are better people for coming to the Independence Bowl. The people here treated us outstanding, it was first class all the way."

-- NIU --