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Believe it: NIU pulls off big victory

Huskies win at Purdue, 28-21

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(Beck Diefenbach – bdiefenbach@daily-chronicle.com)
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (12) celebrates with his teammates after the Huskies defeated Purdue, 28-21, on Saturday at Purdue.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – It was the last play of the kicking game for the Northern Illinois football team.

A fake punt on fourth-and-1 from its 16-yard line with the game on the line; a call that Huskies’ coach Jerry Kill admits is the kind that gets coaches fired. But instead of worrying about polishing up his resume in the unemployment line, Kill gave the go ahead on the fake that sealed a 28-21 win at Purdue on Saturday.

With a BCS team mounting a furious fourth-quarter rally, NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish was shocked by the decision.

“I was surprised, I had no idea,” said Harnish about the fake punt. “We practiced it all week. If you get the look no matter what time of game you execute it. I thought it was a gutsy call. But, that’s the way you have to be in the MAC when you play Big Ten teams you have to go for it.”

Backup running back Justin Anderson took the direct snap from the up-back position for an 11-yard gain. The NIU (2-1) offense ground out two first downs after Anderson’s run to post its first win over a Big Ten team since 1988.

Kill will enjoy the moment until film session begins on Sunday.

“This is a good win for the fans, the players and the team,” Kill said. “We are going to enjoy it but after watching the film it’ll be over with an I’ll be getting after them to get ready for the next game. In college football you’ve got to stay consistent or you get in trouble.”

It was NIU that looked to be in trouble early as Purdue (1-2) punt returner Aaron Valentin returned a punt 62-yards for a touchdown. But, Valentin was a high-wire act as he also had two fumbles recovered by NIU’s Kiaree Daniels and Tyrone Clark.

After a first-quarter interception, Harnish settled into a rhythm. The sophomore quarterback completed 15-of-26 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown. He also had 44 yards rushing on 11 carries. NIU turned Valentin’s second fumble into a touchdown as Harnish threaded a 10-yard pass to tight end Reed Cunningham over a pair of Boilermaker defenders to make the score 21-7.

The Huskies used a career-rushing day from running back Me’co Brown. The sophomore running back had 154 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. Chad Spann added 80-rushing yards on 18 carries and had two touchdowns.

“My job was easy,” Brown said. “The offensive line was opening up holes so big I wasn’t getting touched until I was four yards down the field.”

With the Huskies’ offensive line in control NIU had possession for 41 minutes and 40 seconds.

“We wanted to show our unity up front and come together as a line today,” NIU left guard Jason Onyebuagu said.

Spann added an 11-yard touchdown run at 2:43 in the third quarter it looked like the route was on for the Huskies with a 28-7 lead.   

But Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott scored on a 58-yard touchdown run at 2:24 of the third and again on a 6-yard run in the fourth for the final margin.

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