DeKALB – Two years later, the details are fuzzy. The 50 yards Northern Illinois went in two minutes, the 37 seconds left on the clock – Sean Progar doesn’t recall either.
All NIU’s junior defensive end remembers is confidence. The kick had to go in. There was no alternative.
So as Mike Salerno lined up for a 42-yard field goal – points that surely would have beaten Toledo the last time NIU traveled to the Glass Bowl – Progar jabbered on the sidelines, half-watching the field.
“Then I heard the kick get blocked,” Progar said earlier this week.
Progar called the sound of Toledo safety Barry Church deflecting Salerno’s kick a bad memory. NIU has many in the Glass Bowl, where it will return for a 6 p.m. kickoff Tuesday.
Recent history shows unfavorable odds. The Huskies have only won two of their past 20 games at the Glass Bowl, a place that regularly draws 25,000 fans. Great NIU teams have traveled to Toledo only to have their seasons drastically altered. In 2003, the Huskies lost 49-30.
NIU coach Dave Doeren said he isn’t going to make a big deal of the program’s past misfortune at Toledo. Instead, he relishes the opportunity to change that.
“Any time you play in a hostile environment, I think that’s why you play football. That’s why you coach football, for games like this,” Doeren said. “If we want to make it a manageable place, we’ve got to play our best to keep people quiet. The better they play, the worse we play, obviously the more involved their fans are going to be. So, we’ve got to control the environment the best that we can.”
Quarterback Chandler Harnish remembers the blocked field goal, but the fifth-year senior goes back even further. The first time he experienced Toledo was his 2007 redshirt season, when the Rockets won 70-21.
“Just not a good memory,” Harnish said. “It’s one of those memories you just want to forget, but you always remember.”
Everything went wrong in the 2007 game. Toledo had 812 yards, 460 more than than NIU. The Rockets jumped out to a 35-0 lead and were up 42-7 at half. Instead of running the clock, they scored 21 third-quarter points.
NIU’s fifth-year players still talk about the 2007 game, even though they were redshirting. It’s discussed enough for a junior such as Perez Ashford to be well aware of the embarrassment.
“You just hear a lot about how they didn’t [stop them from] putting up points,” Ashford said. “Kind of like a disrespectful type of thing to continue to put up points like that. You want to come back off of that.”
The Huskies came back proving they could compete in the Glass Bowl last time, only to have their win blocked in the final seconds.
Progar doesn’t remember the specifics at the end. He does know his team led – 19-14 early in the fourth quarter – and required a Toledo comeback.
But NIU’s bad memories won’t fade. Neither has Progar’s confidence.
“I know we can play up there because we were winning for most of the game,” he said. “They came back and blocked a field goal. So as long as we go down there and play the way we’ve been playing these past few weeks – and finish the third and fourth quarter, something we’ve been struggling with a little bit on defense at least – as long as we do that I think we’ll be fine.”