In a dominant performance from start to finish Northern Illinois would secure its second MAC West Division title in five years with a 59-21 romp over Ball State at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana.
Northern Illinois extended its winning streak to eight straight games and earned its ninth win of 2010. NIU has its longest winning streak since the 1965 team posted an undefeated regular season before falling in the Mineral Water Bowl. That streak occurred prior to the Huskies entering the “Major College” (Division I Football Bowl Subdivision) ranks.
The Huskies will match up versus the East Division champion in the 2010 Marathon MAC Championship game on Friday, Dec. 3 at Ford Field in Detroit. In its only appearance in the MAC Championship game to date, NIU lost to Akron, 31-30, on a last-second touchdown by the Zips. NIU won a share of the MAC West title in 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2005.
“It’s good to get it done,” said NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill, whose list of milestone achievements at Northern Illinois continue to grow. “We were able to go on the road and get the job done, accomplish what we needed to do to get to Detroit. We’ll enjoy the win but we have to turn around and play again on Friday.”
Saturday at Ball State, it was the Northern Illinois’ special teams time to shine as the Huskies blocked three punts on the day, setting a new school record for punts blocked in a game and giving NIU six blocked punts on the season, also a school record. Jimmie Ward, who has blocked three punts on the season, this time scooped up Jordan Delegal’s block and ran 15 yards for the Huskies’ second score. Delegal blocked a second punt in the third quarter while Ricky Crider had a partial block in the game.
“Special teams were a big part of the game,” Kill said. “We have some guys there that have the ability to do some things.”
Offensively, Huskie quarterback Chandler Harnish completed his first seven passes of the game and hooked up with fellow Indiana native Nathan Palmer on touchdown passes of 37 and 47 yards in the first 20 minutes of the game to give NIU an early lead. Harnish finished with 247 yards on 15-of-22 passing with two touchdowns in another efficient performance for the Huskie junior.
Indianapolis native Chad Spann scored three rushing touchdowns for the second straight week and has 18 rushing scores this season. He passed NIU great and current Atlanta Falcon Michael Turner for second place on the NIU career rushing touchdowns list. He scored on runs of two, seven and 12 yards. His second score came just before halftime and gave Northern Illinois an insurmountable 35-7 lead.
On defense, the Huskies held Ball State to just 268 yards on 55 plays and the Cardinals converted just two of their 10 third-down tries. NIU forced Ball State to punt eight times and gained only 113 yards on the ground. In addition, NIU linebacker Tyrone Clark picked off his fourth pass of the season and returned it 16 yards for a score in the fourth quarter.
“I am proud of them,” Kill said of his 2010 team. “Three years ago, this senior class went 2-10 and it would be great to finish the regular season and turn that around. We haven’t finished yet. That’s been our motto all year long. ”