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Football

Huskies dominate Fresno State, win Humanitarian Bowl

Northern Illinois interim head coach Tom Matukewicz (center) holds up the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl trophy after the Huskies defeated Fresno State, 40-17, on Saturday at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho.
Northern Illinois interim head coach Tom Matukewicz (center) holds up the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl trophy after the Huskies defeated Fresno State, 40-17, on Saturday at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho.

BOISE, Idaho – Tom Matukewicz got the answer to a question he's always had about the Gatorade showers coaches receive after a big win.

"You always wonder, when you're watching that," said the Northern Illinois interim head coach. "You're like, 'Hey, how cold is that?'

"It's cold. And it felt awesome."

Northern Illinois had little trouble dispatching Fresno State, 40-17, on Saturday at Bronco Stadium to win the uDrove Humanitarian Bowl. Given the chance to celebrate even before the game ended, a handful of NIU players gave the Gatorade shower to Matukewicz – who will return to the Huskies next season under incoming coach Dave Doeren – just as a snow shower began to fall on the blue turf.

The Huskies dominated every facet of the game against the Bulldogs, outgaining the Fresno State 503-362 and registering six sacks while allowing zero. In the process, the 11-3 Huskies set a school record for most victories in a single season.

Running back Chad Spann broke Garrett Wolfe's single-season record for rushing touchdowns in a season with 22 and NIU ended a three-bowl losing streak, winning its first bowl game since the 2004 Silicon Valley Classic.

By the end, it was impossible to tell which team lost its head coach and two coordinators plus a heartbreaking conference title game in the past two-plus weeks.

"I think it says a lot about the maturation of this team," said Spann, who ran for 95 yards and two touchdowns. "Coming in, this season, we were real young and we had a lot of great talented players and they were all real young. We all came together and we had a successful season... All of the coaches, everyone fought hard for this victory today and it showed on the field."

The Huskies felt that they had a lot to play for. They wanted to get the bad taste out of their mouths from the MAC title game loss to Miami (Ohio). They wanted to prove they had in fact come together over the past two weeks. They wanted to make history with 11 victories.

NIU made quick work of that, erasing an early 7-0 deficit with two touchdown runs from Chandler Harnish and a 45-yard field goal from Michael Cklamovski. After a Fresno State (8-5) field goal, the Huskies' explosive offense went to work, with a Harnish touchdown pass to Skarb, a bowl-record 51-yard field goal from Cklamovski and two Spann touchdowns.

Defensively, Fresno State's offense constantly was confused by the motion of the NIU's front seven. Defensive end Jake Coffman was the biggest benefactor as he registered a career-high three sacks.

"I feel sorry for Fresno, because they hit the perfect storm," Matukewicz said. "I'm telling you, we would run through those windows right there. That's how bad we wanted this thing, because of how the thing ended and how everybody was talking about how we were going to fracture and Oh No and instead of that, it was like fire to steel."

Harnish credited Spann and the offensive line for his 300-yard passing, 72-yard rushing day. He also praised Saturday's offensive coordinator Rob Reeves and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski, both of whom told the Daily Chronicle after the game they would head to Minnesota to join Jerry Kill's staff, but that they would miss NIU, the players and the community.

"They put me in fantastic situations," said Harnish, who was named the bowl MVP for NIU. "I'm a movement thrower. I like to do that, I like to run the ball."

The Huskies had no trouble doing that, or much of anything else, on their way to a blowout bowl victory.

"I'm going to find out how much gas is in that jet because I'm not going to land it," Matukewicz said. "We're just going to circle around and celebrate."

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