MINNEAPOLIS – The term used by a few Northern Illinois players to describe this week at Minnesota was "unfinished business."
Consider it complete.
Northern Illinois earned its third-ever win against a Big Ten school and second in the past two seasons by defeating Minnesota, 34-23, on Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium.
"Two years ago, we lost a real close one. It was a heartbreaker," said NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish, referring to a four-point loss to the Golden Gophers in 2008. "So to come out here and play well, like we did, we're very, very happy about that."
The Huskies (2-2) had an abundance of players make big plays, with running back Chad Spann notching the first 200-yard game of his career with a 223-yard, two touchdown performance. Freshman Jimmie Ward blocked a punt that set up a touchdown pass from Harnish to Martel Moore and NIU' front seven on defense held the Golden Gophers (1-3) to just 97 yards rushing.
Ward's punt block firmly shifted the momentum of the game to the Huskies. Minnesota punter Dan Orseke had little chance with Ward coming off the edge, sticking both hands in and sending the ball backwards and into NIU's possession.
"My mind went blank and all I was visioning was the ball," Ward said. "My coaches had a good scheme and I just did what I was coached to do."
The punt block was the seventh by NIU in the past three seasons under Kill. Ward almost had another in the third quarter, also.
"I've coached about 28 years and I don't know if I ever recruited one like this kid (Ward)," Kill said. "He can make plays on special teams. He's going to be a great secondary player.
"I think any time you block a punt it changes the momentum of a football game. That was a big play in the game."
Spann was the consistent big-play runner from a season ago and after teams actively took him way for the previous seven quarters, the NIU senior busted out in a big way. His 61-yard touchdown run with 6:22 left in the game effectively iced the road win for NIU.
"It was just unacceptable how we played the run tonight, particularly the inside zone and some of that stuff with Spann," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said.
The Huskies adjusted their running scheme by going back to some of power running plays that worked in the past. Harnish, the team's leading rusher the past two games, only carried the ball six times while Spann and Cameron Bell (36 yards) had their best statistical games as Huskies.
"It was tremendous," Spann said. "It's always a good feeling when you know you've got big holes to run through. They did a great job up front and I just got lucky and had a great game."