For his entire life, every time Tyler Loos suited up for a football game, he did so with the comforting knowledge that his grandfather, John Loos, was watching from beyond the stands.
Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium was different, but Tyler Loos still felt John’s eyes upon him and his Northern Illinois Huskies teammates.
John passed away August 15 at the age of 76. Yet when Tyler and the Huskies needed some strength in the final 5 minutes against the Iowa Hawkeyes, he found himself talking to his grandfather.
“I kind of said something like, ‘Grandpa, I know you’re watching, help us out here,’ and he did,” said Loos, John’s memory filling his eyes with tears. “What I’m doing this season is dedicating it to my grandpa ... and this is a great start.”
NIU scored 10 points in the final 5:05 to erase a 27-20 deficit and leave Iowa City with a 30-27 victory. Mathew Sims’ 36-yard field goal with 4 seconds left was the game-winner, just 1:13 after Jimmie Ward’s interception set the Huskies up at the Iowa 30-yard line with 1:17 to play.
It was even sweeter for NIU’s players, coaches and fans when one considers Iowa’s come-from-behind 18-17 win at Soldier Field was the Huskies only blemish in the 2012 calendar year.
“Last year, they had a big play at the end; this year, it was us,” Loos said, a smile breaking across his lips. “This game has been marked on our calendar; we wanted a little revenge.
“We just had a couple of big-time plays when we really needed them, and I think that close loss [to Iowa] last year helped us out today.”
Loos and his linemates were a big reason for the Huskies’ success. Iowa had no sacks and just six tackles for loss, most on broken running plays. NIU rushed for 163 yards, passed for 275, and only turned the ball over once – a fumble in the flat after Jordan Lynch completed a pass to Luke Eakes.
What’s more, they kept the pocket clean all game long, especially on the game-tying drive in the final 7 minutes when Lynch connected on back-to-back passes for 33 and 12 yards, the latter a TD to Da’Ron Brown.
“Up front, I think we did better than last year [against Iowa], and that’s a good thing,” Loos said. “We knew Iowa was just going to take us on up front, not do anything too tricky, just kind of stay on you and wear you down.
“They just hunker down and try and stop the run, and we just had to match their effort and intensity.”
NIU coach Rod Carey, and former offensive line coach, saw his big guys in the trenches do just that.
“It’s a good matchup, their D-line vs. our O-line,” Carey said, “and the feeling coming out of the game is our offensive line came up when we needed them to, and they made plays.”
Like last year, Loos was opening the season as a starter after coming off an injury. Last year, at Soldier Field, he played every snap coming off a pair of knee injuries; Saturday marked his return to the field after breaking his lower right leg in the second-to-last regular season game in 2012.
He gave the same answer Saturday to the same question about coming off an injury he fielded at Soldier Field ... then expanded upon it a bit.
“It felt great to be back out there in a game situation,” he said, “and I would say that I wasn’t as nervous this time. I was going against the same guys I did last year, and just having 11 games under my belt, I kind of know what’s going on and what to expect.
“My leg was in the back of my mind at the start, but after warm-ups, I got loosened up and it felt good. In the second half, it started to hurt a little bit, but I wasn’t really worried about it.”
That’s a testament to Loos’ worth ethic and physical strength, as well as his desire to reclaim his starting spot from a year ago.
His comfort level with those past injuries has Loos feeling right at home, and looking ahead to his Huskies having another banner year ... and finishing it this time around.
NIU started the season strong, mostly thanks to mental toughness when it was down and physical ability to make big plays in the clutch.
But give John Loos an assist.
• Ty Reynolds is sports reporter for Shaw Media. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org