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Sports

Blake's sack was a turning point

Northern Illinois wide receiver Matt Simon is pushed out-of-bounds by TCU’s Torrey Stewart and Marvin White after gaining 62 yards on a reception during the third quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Tuesday. AP photo DENIS POROY
Northern Illinois wide receiver Matt Simon is pushed out-of-bounds by TCU’s Torrey Stewart and Marvin White after gaining 62 yards on a reception during the third quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego on Tuesday. AP photo DENIS POROY

SAN DIEGO - Motivation won't be an issue for Northern Illinois during its winter 6 a.m. offseason workouts. The TCU Horned Frogs provided ample fire to fuel NIU's workouts with a 37-7 destruction of the Huskies in the Poinsettia Bowl on Tuesday night. The pain from the blowout loss spoiled an otherwise enjoyable six-day experience in San Diego. The seventh straight winning season - a school-record since starting major-college play in 1969 - ended in a thud. The Huskies, even without a first down in their first six possessions, had an opportunity to scare the 25th-ranked Horned Frogs. Trailing 13-0, NIU sophomore quarterback Dan Nicholson had just completed a 62-yard pass to Matt Simon to TCU's 27-yard line. &#8220We were hoping to get that coverage that we ended up seeing and Matt Simon ran a nice route and did a good job running after the catch,” Nicholson said. Nicholson was knocked out on the next play on a brutal hit by TCU defensive end Tommy Blake. Blake got past NIU left tackle Doug Free for the 7-yard sack. Free battled Blake most the night, and then dished out several words of praise in the postgame. &#8220A great player,” Free said of Blake. &#8220He made a good move and got underneath me and made a sack. They made a couple of plays where I wondered where they came from. They were well-coached and well-planned and used their athletic ability.” The Huskies never recovered from the sack, disappearing into the night. The offense tallied 42 yards on 25 plays in the first half. The numbers didn't improve in the second half, with the Huskies netting 23 plays for 18 yards. Nicholson called Blake's second-quarter sack a turning point. &#8220I didn't see the guy coming and saw that the receiver was about to break open and got hit,” Nicholson said. &#8220It was a huge momentum shift. It was 13-0 at that point. We were down there near the red zone, and I didn't see the guy coming and that the receiver was going to break open and I got sacked.” Wolfe, the nation's leader in rushing and all-purpose yards in the regular season, never found an open seam and didn't get an opportunity to dazzle the crowd of 29,709 fans at Qualcomm Stadium. The Huskies tried to utilize Wolfe's speed and get him outside, but TCU's speed forced NIU's coaching staff to alter its gameplan. &#8220They swarm to the ball,” Free said. &#8220We ran a couple of misdirection plays and they stuck right to it. They're a quick defense and made plays. They proved early in the game they were covering side-to-side pretty well and we had to attack straight at them and try and get after them. The only way to beat side-to-side speed is go straight ahead at them and try to get by them. We tried that, but they made good plays with their backs and did a good job.” The Huskies (7-6) had bad field position, and faced several long third down situations, allowing the Horned Frogs to put their heels back and attack NIU's vulnerable offensive line. &#8220We were getting ourselves in bad situations,” Wolfe said. &#8220We didn't do a good job managing the game.” Wolfe finished the final game of his career with 28 rushing yards and 2 yards receiving. He said the loss won't tarnish his career. &#8220I've very proud of what I've been fortunate enough to accomplish with the help of my teammates,” Wolfe said. &#8220I've been able to accomplish things that people would dream of accomplishing. I've done a lot. It would've been great to get a win, but unfortunately the better team won.” Bobby Narang can be reached at bnarang@daily-chronicle.com

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