Created:Saturday, November 20, 2010 5:03 p.m.CDT
Updated:Saturday, November 20, 2010 8:37 p.m.CDT

NIU punt block team steals the show

Northern Illinois freshman Jimmie Ward celebrates with teammates following a 15-yard punt block return for a touchdown in the first quarter of a 59-21 rout of Ball State at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind., on Saturday. (Scott Walstrom – NIU Media Services)

MUNCIE, Ind. – The Northern Illinois special teams players have a limited number of plays on the field, so when they finally get between the numbers, they look to put on a show.

The Huskies’ punt block team is having an award-winning year and put together its highlight performance of the season during Saturday’s 59-21 win at Ball State.

Jordan Delegal, a junior linebacker, blocked two punts and senior running back Ricky Crider partially blocked another. Delegal’s first-quarter block was scooped up by freshman teammate Jimmie Ward and returned for a 15-yard touchdown.

“Coach Sawvel tells us every week, ‘Leave a lingering effect with the audience. Make them stand up and say, ‘Oh, here it comes,’ ”Delegal said. “Every week we always want to come out and do what we want to do.”

The Huskies got a piece of the ball on three of Ball State punter Scott Kovanda’s eight punts to set a single-game punt block record. NIU also set a single-season record mark of six. Ward had the previous three blocks this season.

NIU coach Jerry Kill said the Huskies' punt block success had more to do with physical advantage than a schematic advantage. Delegal said the Cardinals (4-8, 3-5 MAC) tightened their splits following his first block but that “with our pressure they really couldn’t stop us.”

Due to its ability to pester punters, NIU rarely sends blockers back for a punt return – a big reason Tommy Davis entered Saturday with a 5.6 punt return average. And because of NIU's success, special teams isn't a role for Huskies extras. Kill lines some of his best athletes on special teams.

“We’ve got some speed up there,” Kill said. “We told our kids all year, this is who we are and what we do. Coach Sawvel’s been selling it for a long time. We’ve blocked a lot of punts in three years here.”

On a day when NIU scored 59 points and Tyrone Clark returned an interception for a touchdown, the members of the NIU punt block team were the showstoppers.

“I had my helmet on a couple times, you know, snapped up, talking to the O-line getting them ready to go,” said senior running back Chad Spann, a former special teams standout. “Then, oh, they blocked it and they took it to the house, so we get to sit back down. It’s definitely great when you have that kind of play out of your special teams.”

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?