Northern Illinois Downs Western Michigan 37-10 For Sixth Consecutive Homecoming Win

GO HUSKIES
GO HUSKIES

GO HUSKIES

October 18, 2003

Northern Illinois Beats Western Michigan 37-10 For Sixth Consecutive Homecoming Victory

College Football: Northern Illinois 37, Western Michigan 10

DeKalb, IL - A Huskie Stadium record 28,221 fans witnessed Northern Illinois' sixth consecutive Homecoming win as the 12th-ranked Huskies moved to 7-0 on the season after a 37-10 win over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon (Oct. 18) at Brigham Field at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, IL.

The seven consecutive wins by the Huskies to open the 2003 season also tied the school record of seven straight wins set by the 2002 team from Sept. 28 through Nov. 16. Northern Illinois now owns the nation's third longest active winning streak of seven games, behind Texas Christian (8) and Virginia Tech (8). Oklahoma, who owns an eight-game winning streak heading into Saturday, plays tonight against the Missouri Tigers. Northern Illinois has also won 14 of its last 15 contests, with its lone loss coming on Nov. 23 vs. Toledo, 33-30.

Facing a high-powered Western Michigan passing attack that led the Mid-American Conference with 344.7 yards a game, it was important for the Huskie defense to set the tone early, and did they ever. On the opening possession, the NIU defense forced Western Michigan back near its own goal line, as three plays netted the Broncos negative four yards.

Taking over at the Western Michigan 47-yardline, Michael Turner rushed for nine yards on first down, setting up NIU with an ideal passing down of second and one. Turner again got the ball on a screen pass from junior quarterback Josh Haldi and raced 38 yards for his first receiving touchdown of his career. On the play, senior wide receiver P.J. Fleck sealed off the WMU cornerback, allowing Turner to hit the corner and the afterburners for the TD. The drive took just two plays and lasted just 51 seconds, but for the first time this season, NIU was on the board first.

"We made a concerted effort to come out in the first quarter and play well. You look at last week and we didn't play as well as we were capable of early. That was the first coin toss all year that we won. The defense had the three-and-out and set up good field position right away."

Western Michigan responded with a drive of its own to cut the NIU lead to 7-3. The key play on the drive was a 52-yard completion from WMU quarterback Chad Munson to Antonio Thomas to get the Broncos down to the NIU 14. But the Northern Illinois defense was up to the challenge again, holding Western Michigan to just three more yards and a 29-yard Robert Menchinger field goal.

Randee Drew brought the NIU crowd back to its feet on the ensuing kickoff as he raced 86 yards for an apparent touchdown. However a holding call on the Huskies brought the football back to the NIU 25. NIU quickly got those three points back as Haldi hit Sam Hurd down the sideline for 56 yards, the longest NIU pass play of the season, to set the Huskies up at the WMU 14. After a pair of Michael Turner rushes and an incomplete pass, Steve Azar made Mid-American Conference history as he moved to the top of the MAC's career kick-scoring list with 323 points. Azar would finish the day with 332 career kick-scoring points, tops among kickers and third all-time among all scorers. Travis Prentice (1996-99) scored 468 points for Miami (Ohio) to lead the MAC.

"It's kind of unbelievable. Halfway through the season, the team has given me all these opportunities. Without holder P.J. Fleck and snapper, Kursten Strohman, I couldn't do my job."

After the Northern Illinois defense forced another three-and-out, Haldi and tight end Brad Cieslak hooked up to make the score 17-3 on an eight-yard touchdown pass. The score was Cieslak's second of the year on just three receptions.

Azar added another field goal at the start of the second quarter as he booted a 22-yarder to make the score 20-3. After Western Michigan moved the chains for just the second time of the opening quarter via an NIU facemask penalty, the Northern Illinois defense held the Broncos in check thanks to Vinson Reynolds's fourth sack of the season on the third -down play.

The Huskies then marched 75-yards on 11 plays leading to Azar's chip shot. While the Huskies limited WMU to just the two first downs and 68 yards of total offense, Haldi and the Huskies flourished. The Madison, OH, native completed 7-of-10 passes in the opening quarter for 159 yards and two scores while the Huskies racked up 212 yards.

The Huskies added a final score just before halftime thanks to the legs of Michael Turner. After Rob Lee intercepted Munson in the endzone for his third pick of the season, NIU took over at its own 20-yardline and marched 80 yards in six plays capped by Turner's sixth rushing score of the year. Turner opened the drive with a 28-yard burst around right end putting him over the 100-yard mark for the 17th time of his career and ended the drive with the 18-yard run to make the score 27-3. Turner finished the game with 4,222 career-rushing yards, fourth all-time in MAC history.

When halftime hit, Turner had 137 yards on 19 rushes and the Huskies out-gained the Broncos 311-116. Despite not having Nick Duffy in the middle, NIU held the WMU offense to negative eight yards on the ground on 12 carries.

Northern Illinois may have all but put the game away on its opening drive of the second half. Taking over at its own 20, the Huskies marched 80 yards on 17 plays to make the score 34-3. During the drive, senior All-America candidate P.J. Fleck caught six passes for 64 yards including the 13-yard touchdown reception on a slant pattern. Of Fleck's six catches, three came on either third or fourth down to move the chains. Equally important to the score, was the time taken off the clock during the drive, 8:19. The nation's second ranked receiver entering today's contest, Fleck finished with 10 receptions for 103 yards and a score and has 57 catches for 621 yards and four TD's on the season.

"It was probably, in my opinion, our best football game of the year, our best 60 minutes of the year. The highlight for us, was that long drive to open the third quarter. That was a great job by our offensive team."

The Broncos got their lone touchdown of the afternoon near the end of the third quarter to cut the NIU lead to 34-10. Taking over at its own 25, Munson marched WMU downfield by completing 5-of-9 passes for 75 yards, capped by a seven-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. Entering the game as the MAC's second most prolific passer by passing yardage (317.8 ypg.), Munson was held to just 216 yards on 16-of-31 throwing and the one score. The Huskies also picked off Munson twice. NIU also picked off Bronco backup signal caller Jon Drach once. Munson's 216 yards throwing was his second-lowest output of the season. In a 59-16 loss to Virginia, Munson was 21-of-40 for 196 yards and one score.

The final score of the game came on Azar's third field goal. After marching 55 yards on 12 plays, Azar was true from 31 yards out to cap the game's scoring at 37-10. In addition to being his third make of the game, Azar made his 66th career field goal.

Northern Illinois will return to action next weekend when they travel to Bowling Green, OH, to take on MAC Western Division rival Bowling Green State. Kickoff is slated for 4 p.m. (EDT) and will be televised on ESPN 2.

-Copy by David Reiter

Post-Game Quotes

Western Michigan Head Coach Gary Darnell
On the game:
"I'm certainly proud for Joe Novak and his team for what they have done. Today was a huge disappointment for us. They were in total control of the game early. We never did turn the corner. We never did anything to close the gap. (Michael) Turner was putting on a show and our guys bought the tickets to see it. In the first half, we did the worst job of tackling in the history of football."

On the Bowling Green vs. Northern Illinois Showdown next week:
"I'm not trying to get into any popularity contests. It's phenomenal with those three teams in our division - Northern Illinois, Bowling Green and Toledo - right now. I would put it as a toss-up. They both have a lot of reasons to do well."

Northern Illinois Head Coach Joe Novak
On the game:
"It was probably, in my opinion, our best football game of the year, our best 60 minutes of the year. The highlight for us, was that long drive to open the third quarter. That was a great job by our offensive team."

On Bowling Green State game:
"It's exciting to get recognized. But when we get to Bowling Green, our focus is on the football field. I don't care if the President is there. It's going to be a great game. As big a game as it is, there are still others left to play after it. We know they are a great team."

Northern Illinois running back Michael Turner
On meeting NIU Hall of Fame Inductee LeShon Johnson:
"To finally meet him was great. It was like history. In the back of my mind, I wanted to give him a little show, but it wasn't all about him."

Northern Illinois quarterback Josh Haldi
On the game:
"We made a concerted effort to come out in the first quarter and play well. You look at last week and we didn't play as well as we were capable of early. That was the first coin toss all year that we won. The defense had the three-and-out and set up good field position right away."

"The offensive line are now veterans. They are coming together. We got in a rhythm offensively and we got them (WMU) on their heels early."

Northern Illinois place kicker Steve Azar
On being the MAC's all-time career kick scorer:

"It's kind of unbelievable. Halfway through the season, the team has given me all these opportunities. Without holder P.J. Fleck and snapper, Kursten Strohman, I couldn't do my job."

Post-Game Notes:
Steve Azar moved into first on the Mid-American Conference's all-time kick-scoring list with 332 career points.

Azar was also a perfect 3-of-3 on field goal attempts on Saturday giving him 66 for his career, third all-time in MAC history among field goals made.

In rushing for 100+ yards for the 17th time in his career, Michael Turner now has 4,222 career rushing yards. He passes five individuals - Wasean Tait of Toledo (4,135 yards, 1993-96, 1998), Curtis Adams of Central Michigan (4,162, 1981-84), George Swarn of Miami-Ohio (4,172, 1983-83), Jerome Persell of Western Michigan (4,190, 1976-78) and Robert Sanford of Western Michigan (4,219, 1997-2000) for fourth all-time in MAC history.