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QB battle still unsettled

NIU quarterback Phil Horvath (second from left) takes the snap during the spring game on Saturday. Horvath played in only the first drive of the game. Chronicle photo JEFF OKRASINSKI

DeKALB - Phil Horvath didn't have much time to bask in his return to the football field. Instead, it gave him a chance to dwell on the summer. The Northern Illinois senior quarterback logged three snaps in his first action since falling to a season-ending arm injury against Central Michigan on Nov. 5. A sprained ankle reduced Horvath to playing just one drive, but the brief action was enough motivation in his quest to reclaim the starting job. The Naperville Central alum, who fractured his left non-throwing arm, completed his first attempt in Saturday's annual spring game, connecting with tailback Montell Clanton for a one-yard gain. Horvath missed his next two attempts, his last on a fake field goal. &#8220It's definitely been a while,” said Horvath. &#8220It felt good to be back out there. I wish I could have played more but the coaches said it wasn't worth it.” Horvath would have received more playing time in the scrimmage if not for a sprained ankle sustained in practice on Monday. The injury is not related to an earlier foot injury suffered during winter conditioning, which caused Horvath to miss the first six spring practices. The right-handed gunslinger tore his plantor muscle in his foot during winter sessions, re-aggravating the same injury suffered in Horvath's breakout game in NIU's 48-42 overtime loss to Akron on Sept. 24. Horvath finished with 486 yards and six touchdowns on 39-of-52 throwing. &#8220The only thing I wish I could have done was have more practice time with the team,” said Horvath. &#8220I rolled my ankle during practice last week but it was nothing serious. If it was during the season, I would have played.” Redshirt sophomore quarterback Dan Nicholson quickly took over for Horvath in the second drive of the scrimmage, hitting his first four targets. He then took a dip, missing six of his next seven attempts. Nicholson finished 18-of-30 with 102 yards, but hurled two interceptions. &#8220It was a lot of fun out there,” said Nicholson, who led the Huskies to three straight regular season victories and their first MAC Championship game last season. The fun will quickly be extinguished as the duo will be paired in a heated battle for the starting nod this summer. Horvath and Nicholson will be competing for the starting spot for the second straight season. Horvath won last year's competition when Nicholson sprained his latissimus dorsi muscle. Horvath started the first eight games until suffering his season-ending injury. Nicholson took over the reins midway through the first quarter of the Huskies' 31-28 triumph over Central Michigan, and eventually led NIU to a historic 35-17 conquest of Toledo. Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said he will not make a decision until prior to the Sept. 2 season-opener at Ohio State. Both quarterbacks anticipate a heated battle. &#8220Phil is a great player and this battle is not only going to motivate both of us, but the entire team,” said Nicholson. &#8220The competition is good. It's going to make us just that much better.” Horvath agreed. &#8220We are both going to push each other,” Horvath said. &#8220We both know what to expect from each other. We are going to battle as hard as we can, but I will do whatever I can to get the starting job.” Whoever wins the job will have a full complement of receivers. Despite losing Sam Hurd and Shatone Powers, both quarterbacks anticipate working with a young and talented receiving unit. Redshirt sophomore Matt Simon, who sat out last season with an injury, led the Huskie receivers with 32 yards on five receptions. Preston Williams added four receptions on 53 yards. In all, 11 different receivers finished with at least one catch. &#8220This is definitely a talented group,” said Horvath. &#8220Not one individual stands out in this group. The key will be working with them during the summer to make sure they get their routes right. This is probably the best group of receivers. They will be the key at how well we do next season.” The Huskies added a slight wrinkle into their aerial attack. Nicholson and third-string quarterback Ryan Morris worked the tailbacks into the passing game on Saturday. Clanton led all players with seven receptions for 43 yards, including catching five passes from Nicholson. The Huskie tailbacks combined for 10 of team's 32 receptions. &#8220These running backs are great at catching the ball in the backfield,” said Nicholson. &#8220Garrett (Wolfe) proved that last year. (Adding this in the passing game) is only going to help us out more. It's going to be an added bonus for us.” Nick Gerts can be reached at

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