DETROIT – Almost eight months later, Sean Progar still hasn’t watched the play.
For all the hours of film he’s studied, including last season’s Mid-American Conference Championship Game, he never has replayed Tyrone Clark tipping the football to Miami receiver Chris Givens on fourth-and-20. He intentionally skips it, complete avoidance.
Which made the return to Detroit’s Ford Field for Tuesday’s MAC football media day something Progar had to prepare himself for.
“It’s hard to swallow a little bit sometimes,” Progar said. “I specifically passed over the play. I didn’t want to see it. I watched the film from the game. I watched every other play. But, no, I didn’t want to watch the play.
“It was a little difficult knowing I was going to come back here. That one play changed our whole season. We still obviously had a good season, but it wasn’t what it should’ve been. It’s not the same without that win.”
Northern Illinois was picked to finish second in the West Division behind Toledo in the MAC preseason media poll that was released Tuesday morning. In terms of motivation, that was secondary.
Sitting seven floors above the place his Huskies lost last season’s MAC title largely because of a fluke fourth-down catch, Progar said he had chills. He was there for interviews. Shifting in his seat, leaning forward with his hands folded, he looked like he just wanted to play football.
First-year coach Dave Doeren was still a Wisconsin defensive coordinator when NIU lost to Miami. Working in DeKalb hadn’t crossed his mind. But Doeren’s season had a similar unfulfilling finish, a 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl.
He can relate.
“I’ve been on enough teams to know what they’re going through,” Doeren said. “They tasted victory in their bowl game. I walked out of my last game pretty angry. So I feel like I’ve got to get back on that victory side.
“These guys want to be back with a vengeance. I know they left some things unsettled.”
Quarterback Chandler Harnish said the Humanitarian Bowl victory against Fresno State helped him get over the loss. But it isn’t forgotten. Hopefully, he said, he’ll get the chance to return to Ford Field later this season.
“To me, it’s in the past. It’s unfinished business,” Harnish said. “We don’t want that feeling ever again. Our only goal this year is a MAC championship. I want to leave here being a winner.”
Between interviews, Progar walked a couple yards away from NIU’s table and peered down from the seventh-floor press box. He stared at the field. He saw the play for the first time in eight months. It ran through his mind.
Progar still can hear the crowd, he says. Even now, he remembers the fans’ collective groan. Progar was near Miami quarterback Austin Boucher when the ball was thrown, close to a sack. That groan told him something went wrong.
Progar could see Boucher walk back to the huddle after the play.
“I can’t believe that just happened,” Progar said Boucher told his teammates. “We’re about to win the MAC championship.”
Progar doesn’t know how he heard Boucher over the crowd, but the memory is vivid. It’s one he can’t shake, no matter how hard he tries. The only way to completely forget the play is to get the win.
“Obviously I’m over it. I’m over it now because I have to be,” Progar said. “It’s been almost a year, and I’m more worried about this season now. We’re going to win it this year. I don’t doubt it for a second.”
MAC preseason media poll
Team Points (first-place votes)
1. Toledo (8) 83
2. Northern Illinois (5) 81
3. Western Michigan (2) 76
4. Central Michigan (1) 55
5. Ball State 27
6. Eastern Michigan 24
1. Miami (4) 97
2. Ohio (8) 96
3. Temple (4) 88
4. Kent State 57
5. Bowling Green 48
6. Buffalo 37
7. Akron 25