DeKALB – Ball State coach Stan Parrish had no doubt he would see Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish take the field at some point on Thursday.
“No, no. Because Jerry [Kill] is sneaky,” Parrish said tongue-in-cheek. “I read between the lines. ‘Oh he’s back. Oh he’s this. Oh I don’t know if he’s ready.’ I know that Kansas-bred coach of yours. I told our players Harnish will be out there, guaranteed it.”
Harnish, the Northern Illinois sophomore quarterback who missed the past three games with a right knee injury, started the second half and helped lead the Huskies to a 26-20 victory against Ball State on Thursday night at Huskie Stadium.
Harnish got a half’s worth of reps, sharing some with Thursday’s starter DeMarcus Grady, for Northern Illinois (7-3, 5-1 MAC West). He went 9 of 9 for 60 yards and a touchdown as the Huskies kept alive their hopes of winning the West division by staying within a game of division-leading Central Michigan with two games left in the regular season.
“I knew he’d play because [Kill] has to get him ready,” Parrish said. “They’ve got Ohio U. and Central [Michigan] coming up. They’ve got a shot. They’re in position in November, which is all you want to be.”
As for Harnish, he felt he was ready to go and wanted to test out his knee in a game.
“It felt fine,” Harnish said. “It’s not a 100 percent but I didn’t expect it to be like that. I’m going to have to work hard this week to keep rehabbing and get back to where I feel 100 percent in the offense to move out and run and try and make people miss.”
Harnish entered the game with a 16-13 lead. Ball State (1-9, 1-5 MAC West) scored early on a 5-yard run by Eric Williams and NIU answered with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Grady to Preston Williams.
NIU appeared to be on its way to another blowout win after a safety by Jake Coffman and a 6-yard touchdown run from running back Chad Spann, but the Cardinals hung tough with a pair of Ian McGarvey field goals.
Grady, who finished 4 of 5 for 31 yards and a touchdown, threw an up-for-grabs pass that was intercepted by Alex Knipp in the second quarter.
It was the last pass Grady threw Thursday.
“Coach Kill did not pull him because he threw an interception or anything like that,” Kill said. “We needed to get Chandler in. We needed him to play. I thought about getting him in in the second quarter but we had a decent rhythm going, I just wanted to keep it.”
Harnish’s first drive resulted in a Mike Salerno 41-yard field goal and his second drive ended in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Lewis to make it 26-13. Harnish rolled out on a designed quarterback run near the goal line, but was quickly wrapped up.
“I just didn’t trust my speed, my knee was holding up,” Harnish said. “It was doing a good job. I probably shouldn’t have done that but I’ll learn from those things and only get better.”
NIU held onto win after Ball State’s Tanner Justice made it 26-20 with a touchdown pass to Daniel Ifft. The Huskies appeared to have the game won after forcing a turnover on downs with 1:35 left, but had to give Ball State the ball back with two seconds left and time for a Hail Mary.
“I’m going to have to talk to the clock operator,” Kill said. “I’ve got it down to a science now. So I’ve got to see where either I can’t do math anymore, but that’s all I can really say. I know one thing, I’m not going to take a chance next time. I know what I’m going to do.”