Bad fourth quarter breaks cost NIU football a 24-21 loss to No. 18 Wisconsin



September 14, 2002

COLLEGE FOOTBALL--- Northern Illinois University at University of Wisconsin / Madison, WI / UW's Camp Randall Stadium / Non-Conference Game / Saturday / September 14, 2002.


MADISON, WI - A final drive marred by penalties gave the No. 18 University of Wisconsin a 24-21 victory over the Northern Illinois University football team, here on Saturday (September 14). The Badgers scored the winner touchdown with 1:21 remaining in the game on a two-yard run by UW quarterback Brook Bollinger.

The Huskies fall to 1-2 on the season as they drop their second game in a row and second-straight loss to Wisconsin, dating back to a controversial 18-17 victory on September 26, 1992, while UW improves to 4-0.

"It's too bad, it's really too bad," NIU head coach Joe Novak said. "They (NIU) played their butts off. As far as I'm concerned, they won the football game."

With 5:55 remaining in the game, Northern Illinois regained the lead when tailback Michael Turner (North Chicago) crossed the goal line for his second touchdown of the day - part of his game-high 160 yards - to put the Huskies ahead 22-17. Turner's touchdown gave NIU its first advantage since placekicker Steve Azar (Colorado Springs, CO / Highlands Ranch) put NIU on the board first with a 34-yard field goal at the 6:33 mark of the first half.

On the ensuing Badger drive, the Huskie defense, which limited UW to 275 yards of total offense to NIU's 455 yards, stopped Wisconsin with a pair of sacks by linebacker Larry Williams (Chicago / Dunbar), forcing a punt. Even though Northern Illinois went three and out, punter Jimmy Erwan (Mastic Beach, NY / Floyd) had apparently pushed the Badgers back to their 36-yard line with a 63-yard launch.

That's when a series of penalties put Wisconsin in a position to win the game. During the play, NIU was flagged for holding, forcing Erwan to punt again, but this time UW got the ball on the 50-yard line. The Badgers pushed the ball to the Huskies 34-yard line where they were faced with third and ten. As Bollinger's pass fell short of running back Anthony Davis, the Huskies were called for pass interference, resulting in a first down. Two plays later NIU was flagged for pass interference once again, giving UW the ball on the two yard line where Bollinger took it in for the winning score.

"I didn't like them," Novak said of the calls. "For a team not penalized very often, we sure went the wrong way a lot of the time. We got it (the punt) out of there! A sixty-yard punt and we get called for holding. I've been in this for 34 years and I've never seen that."

In a game where the Huskies could not afford to make very little mistakes, it was their miscues that kept Wisconsin in the game. Two of the Badgers' three touchdowns were a result of a pair of Northern Illinois' four turnovers. Late in the first half, split end Dan Sheldon (Elgin / Burlington Central) took a 30-yard reverse to the UW three yard line, only to be stripped of the ball with the Badgers recovering it on the one-yard line.

Wisconsin gave the ball right back as cornerback Randee Drew (Milwaukee, WI / Nicole) got NIU's first takeaway of the season with an interception. Unfortunately, Wisconsin got the ball back in the next series on a fumble by quarterback Josh Haldi (Madison, OH). Nine plays later UW was on the board with a one-yard Bollinger bootleg.

Northern Illinois looked like it was going to go into the locker room down only a point as Azar's 37-yard field goal with 33 seconds remaining made it a 7-6 game in favor of the Badgers. However, Wisconsin marched right down the field in four plays as Scott Campbell's 29-yard field goal gave UW a 10-6 halftime lead.

The Huskies marched 65 yards to open the second half to set up Azar's third field goal of the day. Turned supplied most of the yardage on the opening drive as he gained 51 of his game-high 160 yards. NIU out-gained the Badgers 182-68 on the ground, including 49 by the Badgers' running back Davis. But the Doak Walker candidate found the end zone after Haldi was picked off by Jim Leonhard at the Northern Illinois 18-yard line. Three plays later Davis took the ball in from the nine-yard line to make it a 17-9 contest.

Not buckling in front a crowd of 77, 460 at Camp Randall Stadium, the fifth largest crowd NIU has played in front of, the Huskies stormed down the field to get their first touchdown of the game. Turner capped a six-play, 79-yard drive with a three-yard run to pull NIU within 17-15, but the two-point conversion pass from Haldi fell incomplete.

"Mike's pretty good," Novak added. "He had 983 yards as a freshman back up. I asked him this week how big his shoulders were because he had to carry the load. He wants the ball, you can't tell me hat there isn't a tailback in the country that doesn't want the ball."

After a two-week absence from Huskie Stadium, Northern Illinois returns home to face Western Illinois University on Saturday, September 21. The Huskies and Leathernecks kickoff at 6:35 p.m. CST on Business and Agriculture Night.

---Copy by Michael Smoose




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