Created:Monday, January 9, 2012 1:55 a.m.CST
Updated:Monday, January 9, 2012 1:57 a.m.CST
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VIEWS: Top 25 ranking should be the bow on NIU's season

By RYAN WOOD - rwood@shawmedia.com
Northern Illinois University players, including Willie Clark (left), drench head coach Dave Doeren after Sunday’s win over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell – Mobile Press-Register)

MOBILE, Ala. – One Gatorade bucket wasn’t enough. Not for this moment. Careers were ending. Legacies were being forever cemented. History was about to show these Northern Illinois Huskies were the most successful in program history.

So after NIU’s convincing, 38-20 GoDaddy.com Bowl win against Arkansas State on Sunday night before a crowd of 38,734 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, seniors dumped two buckets on coach Dave Doeren.

"It's cold," said Doeren, who had time to dry and change into a suit before talking to the media afterward. "That's just fun. The guys had a good time with that."

This game wasn’t as close as the final score. Plenty of talk was made afterward about coach Hugh Freze’s departure to Mississippi and how that affected Arkansas State, but it was more than that. The Red Wolves were the upstart program enjoying one of their finest seasons in program history and trying to get their first bowl victory. The Huskies were the established, mid-major power on their way to another ho-hum bowl win.

This was a demolition, the varsity whipping the JV. It was a top 25-caliber team beating a group that wasn’t quite ready for that threshold.

That’s right. After the first Mid-American Conference championship in 28 years, there seems to be only one more question remaining. A lot of things ended Sunday night. It’s time for the Huskies 0-and-forever drought of Top 25 finishes to end as well.

I never thought I would write those words this season. Not after NIU’s defense looked unfit for college football – let alone the country’s upper echelon – in the season’s early weeks.

But there was the defense, holding Arkansas State to two field goals after being handed short fields, making sure the the score didn’t get out of hand early. And there was Dechane Durante, cementing the win with a 36-yard interception returned for touchdown with 8:19 left.

"Coach told us the game wasn't over [before the play], and the secondary was going to have to make a big play," Durante said. "And that's what we did. So when I crossed the [goal] line, my team rallied around me and told me it won the game for us."

NIU’s offense always has been top 25 caliber, and it was again Sunday. NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish had a fitting stamp on his career, finishing 18 of 37 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and his hands raised in a V as the final seconds ticked away. Junior receiver Martel Moore set the stage for what should be an excellent senior season, finishing with 224 yards and a touchdown.

And boy, didn’t backup Jordan Lynch show he was ready to be a starter, taking over NIU’s offense when Harnish was briefly sidelined with a left ankle tweak in the second quarter and not missing a step.

Finality has its way of putting things in perspective. Yes, Chandler Harnish is the undisputed best quarterback in NIU history. Yes, these seniors will be known as the winningest ever. And yes, the Huskies defense is legitimate, setting up what should be another successful season this fall.

A lot of great things ended Sunday night. It’s time for the Huskies’ 0-and-forever drought of finishing in the top 25 to finish along with it.

"Absolutely," Doeren said when asked if he had a Top 25 team. "You win nine in a row, and you beat a team that's won nine in a row as well, a conference championship team – and I know we were No. 26 in one poll coming in – after that game, I don't know how we're not in the Top 25."

• Ryan Wood is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at rwood@shawmedia.com.

Who wins the Boca Raton Bowl?
NIU
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