DeKALB – Peeling himself up from the turf, Chandler Harnish couldn’t stop thinking about the points he had just cost his team.
He watched Ball State safety Josh Howard streak 92 yards toward the opposite end zone, and wondered how. Confused, the previous few seconds ran through his mind. He thought he had done everything right. He was sure of it.
But, for the first time in 141 carries, the Northern Illinois senior quarterback lost a fumble. And the mistake put his team in an early, 14-point crater.
“You never expect to fumble, so it’s always a surprise when you do,” Harnish said. “I thought I was holding the ball high and tight, but I think a lot of guys said I was kind of loose with it [Tuesday]. So I think I was trying to be a little too cool, or something. I don’t know.
“That’s the type of stuff you see on TV and think, ‘Man, what a bonehead move.’ I felt terrible.”
It was a bonehead move after weeks of near-flawlessness, his first adversity after making things look so easy for so long. But Harnish didn’t panic.
Realizing there were still more than three quarters left, Harnish steeled himself. Unflinching, he led NIU on an eight-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Martel Moore.
“I heard him on the sideline, he said, ‘I screwed up. I’ll make up for it,’ “ Doeren said. “That’s what we do. That’s what our team is. We’re tough guys, we’re blue-collar guys. When we make mistakes, myself included, we’re going to own up to them. We’re going to take pride in fixing it and being accountable.”
No one embodies that mindset more than the senior quarterback, who was named a Walter Camp Award semifinalist the day after the win.
It wasn’t that he led NIU on a touchdown drive one series after his fumble. It was how he dominated those final three quarters, taking control of a game that didn’t lack for stars.
A night that featured Harnish’s biggest mistake of the season – he does, after all, have only two lost fumbles and four interceptions through 11 games – ended as perhaps his greatest performance. Harnish had a program-record 519 total yards, topping Phil Horvath’s seemingly unreachable 477 from 2005. It included his second-highest passing yardage total (338) of his career, and third straight 100-yard rushing game.
Harnish finished 19 yards shy of passing and running for 200 apiece – for the second time this season. Before this fall, only 10 players in college football history had done it once. And unlike his first time – which came in a 51-22 win against Western Michigan – the Huskies needed every foot.
All Ball State coach Pete Lembo could do was shake his head.
“I’m very happy that he’s graduating,” Lembo said. “I’m sure he’s going to be a fine addition to somebody’s company when his football career ends.”
In Harnish’s second-to-last game at Huskie Stadium, Doeren said, the senior shouldn’t have any regrets. His fumble didn’t define the night. It amplified it, serving a backdrop to more brilliance, a reminder that it really isn’t as easy as he makes it look.
“Nothing sweeter,” Harnish said.