LAWRENCE, Kan. – The words used in Kansas on Sunday morning told the tale. Incredible. Exhausted. Believe.
Yes, they were terms of triumph. But they also described an underdog getting the upset, confirming last week’s thoughts and odds leading up to Northern Illinois’ first road game of the season.
The Huskies were the favorites. They had a chance to make a national statement, creep near the top 25 and beat a Big 12 team by a couple touchdowns on the road. Instead, they lost, 45-42, in front of 48,044 fans at Memorial Stadium.
“Definitely a statement game,” NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish said. “We were favored to prove to people that we are here for a reason, but we weren’t able to do that. Kansas took advantage of some of our miscues (Saturday), and credit goes to them.”
Jayhawks fans were exhilarated Sunday. Some in the Huskies’ base felt extinguished. Mid-major coaches say all the time it isn’t enough to simply compete against the BCS. They need to win.
“Any time you can beat a team in a conference like the Big 12 or the Big Ten, it’s a statement game,” coach Dave Doeren said. “Those are schools that have ‘BCS caliber’ written on them. It’s a game that our kids wanted to win extremely, extremely bad, and we came up short.”
The reality is, NIU lost by three points in a Big 12 stadium without playing its best, offensively and especially defensively.
Kansas’ game winner – a 6-yard pass from quarterback Jordan Webb to D.J. Brashears on fourth-and-goal with nine seconds left – will be remembered for a long time. It instantly joined the incompleted Hail Mary’s at Minnesota in former coach Jerry Kill’s debut, and the failed two-point conversion at Northwestern in 2005.
“Defensively, we didn’t play our game,” cornerback Sean Evans said. “We’re a tenacious defense, and we weren’t there for all four quarters like we should’ve been to help out the offense and their excellent job. They did an absolutely amazing job.
“It’s tough. It’s a tough pill to swallow.”
NIU’s defense had sense of letting its offense down. Senior middle linebacker Pat Schiller even said as much after the game. But while the Huskies’ offensive numbers were impressive, they didn’t play up to their potential either.
With the luxury of having the second half’s first possession, NIU could have put the game close to out of reach near the end of the second quarter. But the Huskies’ final first-half possession ended controversially on downs at Kansas’ 30-yard line after receiver Martel Moore’s catch was overturned in a replay review.
Moore said he was sure he caught the football. Harnish thought the referee was checking whether it was a touchdown. Either way, it was a major turning point.
“That was a tough play because that was points off the board,” Doeren said. “... It’s tough. We didn’t make the plays that we needed to make at certain times in the game.”
What awaits NIU this week will be difficult. The Huskies have to forget about their missed opportunity, move on with their young season. And fast. No. 7 Wisconsin awaits, and the Badgers have looked dominant through their first two games.
But Moore said he believes his team will turn Saturday’s frustrating upset into something positive.
“Our team chemistry, we’re too good not to,” Moore said. “We’re about to go in and fight like we’re about to be 3-0. They say you get better from losses, but we’re just going to be that much hungry to get this win.