MUNCIE, Ind. - Two seasons ago, Northern Illinois left the Ball State campus down and beaten after being dismantled by a then-undefeated Ball State squad.
Saturday, the Huskies boarded the bus outside Scheumann Stadium as Mid-American Conference West Division champions.
NIU is on its way to Detroit thanks to a 59-21 blowout win over the Cardinals. The Huskies will take on the MAC East champ at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 3 at Ford Field in Detroit. It's the second appearance in the MAC title game for NIU. The Huskies fell 31-30 against Akron back in 2005.
“I don't think it's really set in yet,” wide receiver Nathan Palmer said. “It hasn't really set in yet. We've got to play Eastern Michigan to close out the season.
“It's feeling great compared to three years ago when we were 2-10. It's a better feeling. We've achieved one goal. We've still got a lot more that we need to reach.” In the words of quarterback Chandler Harnish, NIU (9-2, 7-0 MAC) is an offensive powerhouse.
The Huskies didn't do anything to dispel that notion Saturday, dropping 59 points on the Cardinals (4-8, 3-5 MAC) less than two weeks after scoring 65 in a win over Toledo. The Huskies are now the highest scoring team in school history with 423 points on the season, breaking the 2004 team's previous record of 421.
NIU gave running back Chad Spann huge holes to run through. Harnish had no problem finding wide-open receivers all afternoon, completing his first seven passes on his way to a 247-yard day.
Harnish threw two touchdown passes to fellow Indiana native Nathan Palmer. The junior hit Palmer with a 37-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and found Palmer again from 47 yards out in the second.
“You can't stop one part of our offense,” Spann said. “I can run, Chandler can run. Chandler can throw. We've got some very talented receivers out there and we've got a great offensive line that pass protects and run blocks very well.”
Spann ran for three touchdowns. He now has 45 rushing touchdowns in his career, passing current Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner on NIU's all-time list. He's now just seven rushing touchdowns short of current Chicago Bear Garrett Wolfe's school record of 52.
“Garrett, Turner, those guys are tremendous players,” Spann said. “We have them up on our walls at the Yordon Center and I see them every day. It's definitely a good honor to be mentioned with those guys.”
The Huskies also got help from their special teams, which came up with three blocked punts, two by Jordan Delegal and the other courtesy of Ricky Crider. Jimmie Ward, who has three blocked punts himself this season, returned Delegal's first blocked punt for a touchdown to give NIU a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“A lot of people ask, 'what did you do on those off days, or off weeks?' We went back through and we worked on punt block drills, and techniques, and fundamentals,” NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. “Special teams is certainly a big part of the game today, and I really liked the way we covered the ball.”