'Storybook ending' for Harnish, NIU
Things were not looking good for the Northern Illinois Huskies in the early stages of the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday night in Mobile, Alabama.
They were getting pushed around by Arkansas State, who at one point led 13-0 but could've been ahead by more had they not been forced to settle for a pair of field goals.
And then early in the second quarter it happened: All-everything quarterback Chandler Harnish went down in a heap with an ankle injury.
Bill Baker, longtime voice of the Huskies, lowered his effusive-o-meter from 11 to around 1 because things could not have looked more bleak for NIU with Harnish limping to the sideline.
"It was a lingering injury I've had since the MAC championship," Harnish told reporters. "I was hoping there wasn't a broken bone or something."
Fortunately there wasn't, and Harnish and the Huskies, for the third time this season, rallied from a double-digit deficit to roll to a victory, this time a 38-20 over a stunned group of Red Wolves.
"This is a storybook ending," Harnish said. "The way we came out and beat a great Arkansas State team is something we ought to be proud of."
The Huskies, the 2011 Mid-American Conference champions, won their ninth straight game to complete a second consecutive 11-3 season.
"Our guys never flinched," said Huskies first-year head coach Dave Doeren, whose recruiting probably got a big boost courtesy of the win. "It was a lot of fun. I am proud of the Huskies, the entire team, our fans and how we represented Northern Illinois.
"We started to run our plays better and stopped beating ourselves. The coaches called an aggressive game. Two scores is nothing for us. We've been down way more than that this year."
The comeback started when sophomore Jordan Lynch replaced Harnish and put the Huskies ahead for the first time by directing a seven-play, 78-yard touchdown drive.
On the drive, Lynch hit Martel Moore for a 41-yard reception, 1 of his 8 catches, before scoring himself on a 3-yard run to go up 14-13.
Harnish returned to lead another TD drive just before the half, and the Huskies would never look back en route to capturing back-to-back bowl games for the first time since taking the 1983 California Bowl and 2004 Silicon Valley Classic.
Harnish completed 18 of 36 passes for 274 yards and 2 touchdowns in his final college game and won the Most Valuable Player Award, bad ankle and all.
"I just came in and got it checked out and the pain kind of ceased after a few minutes," he said. "They taped me up stronger; I went out there and I felt good."
Moore was named the game's offensive MVP, while redshirt freshman Dechane Durante, whose 36-yard interception return and touchdown with 8:19 to play sealed the win, was defensive MVP.
Punter Ryan Neir, who pinned ASU inside the 20 four times on his 8 kicks, was special-teams MVP.
And now the Huskies, who began the week just outside the AP Top 25, may have provided enough ammo for voters to finish up a ranked team.
That would be a true storybook ending.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.