DeKALB – How did it come to this?
Besides the final score – 23-17 Northern Illinois over North Dakota – the stat sheet from Saturday's NIU home opener suggested a Huskies' blowout.
NIU gained 510 yards of total offense, including 364 yards rushing, compared to 334 by North Dakota. The Huskies controlled the clock for 35 minutes, 3 seconds of the 60-minute game. NIU committed only one turnover.
But somehow, there the Huskies were: one Fighting Sioux dropped catch from losing to a Football Championship Subdivision team and starting the season 0-2 with back-to-back road trips to Illinois and Minnesota ahead.
"I think it was a unique game," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "You go by the first half and you look at the yardage we had offensively (360) and what they had (123), you look at the score of the game and you're trying to figure out what's going on.
"That part of it is disturbing because to do that and not have more points, we need to learn to finish."
In front of 18,046 fans at Huskie Stadium, NIU (1-1) took a 16-0 lead with 12:06 left in the second quarter behind a quick start from the offense, including a 79-yard touchdown run by Chad Spann (140 rushing yards) on the first play from scrimmage.
North Dakota, which lost to Idaho 45-0 in Week 1, looked like it was headed for its second consecutive blowout loss.
But then Harnish – who replaced DeMarcus Grady as the Huskies starting quarterback and rushed for a career high 178 yards and passed for 146 yards – made his first mistake. UND cornerback Dominique Hawkins returned a poorly thrown out route 63 yards for a touchdown.
It became just one of several big plays the Fighting Sioux made and the Huskies didn't.
"We came out fast, and they didn't lay down," NIU linebacker Alex Kube said. "Our goal was to come out fast and hit 'em in the mouth early, and a lot of teams lay down, especially the lower-level teams. Now, they kept fighting back."
Jake Landry threw an 85-yard touchdown pass to Greg Hardin to cut NIU's lead to 16-14 late in the third quarter.
After Harnish's 40-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, UND stopped the Huskies' quarterback short on a fourth-and-4 and NIU just eight yards from the end zone.
The Fighting Sioux blocked NIU's punt on the next position and turned it into a field goal – 23-17 and a lot of uneasy stomachs in Huskie Stadium.
"I thought we made plays when we needed to make plays in all facets of the game," UND coach Chris Mussman said.
After an NIU three-and-out, UND took over from their own 38-yard line with 57 seconds remaining. The Fighting Sioux gained two first downs and had the ball at the NIU 27-yard line.
Then Hardin, who had 171 receiving yards for UND, made the play of the day – for the Huskies.
He dropped a perfect pass, and possibly a touchdown, from Landry at the 2-yard line. Landry's next pass was picked off by Tommy Davis as time expired.
NIU was counting its blessings for coming away victorious in a game that it almost gave away. One that never even should have been a contest.
"The bottom line is with the way with the way our schedule is set, you have to win at home, so it's a huge win," Kill said. "I'll answer that one, a huge win. You don't win that game, that's not a good thing."