NIU’s seniors look to add to their legacy
It's going to be Senior Night on Wednesday when Northern Illinois takes on Toledo in another Mid-American Conference West showdown in DeKalb.
NIU is hoping for a sellout crowd of 24,000 at Huskie Stadium in the final home game of the season to help honor the winningest class in school history,
In a class by themselves
With another bowl invitation expected later this month, NIU's 13 seniors will be playing in their fourth straight bowl game. The senior class has 38 victories over the last four years, and here's a glance at their postseason success, with another MAC West and MAC Championship title still in reach this season:
Ÿ 2011 MAC Champions
Ÿ Two MAC West Division championship titles
Ÿ 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl NIU 38, Arkansas State 20
Ÿ 2010 Humanitarian Bowl NIU 40, Fresno State 17
Ÿ 2009 International Bowl South Florida 27, NIU 3
Here's a look at the last five MAC games between the NIU Huskies and the Toledo Rockets:
Nov. 1, 2011 at Toledo NIU 63,Toledo 60
Chandler Harnish threw his sixth touchdown pass of the game, a 4-yard completion to Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left, and the Huskie defense stopped Toledo in the final seconds, giving Northern Illinois a 63-60 win.
Nov. 9, 2010 at DeKalb NIU 65, Toledo 30
Northern Illinois won its seventh straight game with this victory victory on Senior Night at Huskie Stadium. The NIU offense gained 584 yards (422 on the ground).
Oct. 17, 2009 at Toledo Toledo 20, NIU 19
Mike Salerno's 42-yard field goal attempt, with 37 seconds left to play, was blocked by Toledo's Barry Church, allowing the Rockets to claim the victory.
Oct. 18, 2008 at DeKalb NIU 38, Toledo 7
NIU freshman QB Chandler Harnish returned to the starting lineup and threw for 3 TDs, leading the Huskies to their first win over Toledo at Huskie Stadium since 1989.
Oct. 27, 2007 at Toledo Toledo 70, NIU 21
Toledo scored 21 points in each of the first three quarters and went on to a record-setting victory at the Glass Bowl.
Source: NIU Athletics
"For it to be sold out would be a big deal, especially with it being Senior Night," said senior linebacker Tyrone Clark. "Competing for the MAC West title, it all goes hand in hand."
It seems as if it always comes down to NIU and Toledo for the MAC West crown.
"I feel like the road to the MAC championship always travels through one of us," said Toledo junior running back David Fluellen, who leads the nation in rushing with 1,381 yards.
The 13 NIU seniors are 38-13 for a winning percentage of .745, including last year's 63-60 win at Toledo. They are 21-1 at home with the nation's longest winning streak at 20.
"For us, that's the most important part of the week is the most winningest class in NIU football history gets to go out on the field at night on national television and play," said Huskies coach Dave Doeren. "We'll do everything we can as a coaching staff and as a football team to send them out the right way."
A sellout crowd would be a great thing for the university, according to Doeren, particularly with the game televised nationally on ESPN2.
"It means a lot for our seniors and I think they deserve it, to be honest with you," Doeren said "When you put a body of work together like our seniors have, these guys are going to have five bowl rings. They deserve a sellout and I don't think that is asking too much from our fans and our students.
"I know everyone has things to do and it's a weeknight, I get it. It takes a lot out of a person's life to give up three hours to come over here, but these kids give a lot too, and I would love for them to be rewarded with everybody's presence.
"It's obviously good for football and recruiting, but you know for the university to show that kind of school pride, I think it says a lot about everybody," Doeren said. "It's a brand. It's NIU football. It's the university. There are commercials about the university. It's ESPN's presence, all those things. You don't get better advertising than national television for four hours."
Toledo coach Matt Campbell certainly expects an electric atmosphere.
"I'm sure their students are going to be out and ready to rock and roll," Campbell said. "Winning creates that. Winning football games has created a great buzz at their university and a great buzz for their program on home games. That's one of the things they have going for them."
The Huskies' best chance to win is to contain Fluellen, which is easier said than done.
"We try to put a major emphasis on stopping the run," Clark said. "I got a chance to see their game and watch film. He's a good back. I give him credit for what he does, but as a defense, we focus on us."
A 10th straight win would send NIU to the MAC championship game Nov. 30 in Detroit for the third straight year no matter what happens in its season finale at Eastern Michigan.
"When you can be a program that sustains excellence that says a lot," Doeren said. "NIU has been the winningest football program for a decade, obviously. But you mark, at least we do, success by winning your side of the division. To say that we have done that three years in a row is a big deal."
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