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NIU runs over Western Michigan, 51-22

Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (12) carries the ball during the first quarter in on Saturday at Huskie Stadium. Northern Illinois defeated Western Michigan, 51-22.
Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish (12) carries the ball during the first quarter in on Saturday at Huskie Stadium. Northern Illinois defeated Western Michigan, 51-22.

DeKALB – He couldn't remember the words or how he said it.

"I was pretty caught up in the moment," Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren said.

But sometime before NIU left its locker room Saturday for the second half against Western Michigan – and mixed between a few expletives, Doeren admitted – the Huskies' first-year coach made an adjustment. Confused by the option-read on the first half's final drive, the Broncos' defense split up the middle. Quarterback Chandler Harnish ran 29 yards through open field, setting up a field goal and two-point deficit.

"I told the offense at halftime, 'I want you to run it until they stop it. I don't want to see another play call, just change the formations,' " Doeren said.

The Broncos never even slowed it down. NIU rushed for 494 yards and didn't stop until it got a season-saving, 51-22 victory in front of a homecoming crowd of 20,227 at Huskie Stadium.

Harnish ran for 229 of his 432 total yards, a career-high rushing total. Ironically, he had no touchdowns despite runs of 29, 40, 45 and 51 yards.

"Tiring," Harnish said afterward, describing how it felt. "They hit hard. But at the same time, it was a lot of fun. It was easy because the O-line was doing their job. The running backs were doing a phenomenal job blocking, same for the wide receivers. My reads were simple, and the holes were so wide open.

"If I had been a little faster, I would've scored some touchdowns."

Harnish had 163 of NIU's 222 rushing yards in the third quarter alone. When he sat in the fourth, backup quarterback Jordan Lynch put the finishing touches on his nine carries and 113 yards. Lynch did score one touchdown.

Together, NIU (4-3, 2-1 Mid-American Conference West) quarterbacks combined for 342 yards on 24 carries, three of which were Lynch's kneel-downs to finish the game.

Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit was flabbergasted NIU achieved so much mostly with one play.

"Never seen anything like it in my life," Cubit said.

"There's nothing you can say here. You can say all you want about [weather] conditions and everything else. We got our butts whupped. That's the bottom line. There's nothing else you can say."

Almost as impressive as NIU's running was its ability to stop Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) from doing the same. The Broncos ran for 351 yards the previous week in a blowout win against Bowling Green. They had 91 on 31 carries against the Huskies.

Two weeks ago, Doeren fielded questions about whether he should assume more control of coordinator Jay Niemann's defense. After the Huskies second straight quality defensive performance Saturday, the inquires turned complimentary.

"After the Cal Poly game, I think we started to see growth," Doeren said. "Even though it didn't show up at Central Michigan, I really feel that game was more about big plays and missed tackles than it was scheme.

"I thought coach Niemann and the guys had a great game plan today, and I think the kids executed it really well."

Harnish was quick to deflect any notion about making a statement Saturday. This was survival, the second round of NIU's "playoffs." With a conference loss, there still is a long way to go if the Huskies want to return to Detroit for the MAC title game.

But it was a critical step, one that rendered Doeren and his players to chuckles and smiles after the game. Not even Doeren could have anticipated how much success the halftime adjustment would bring.

"Honestly, you can't predict something like that," Doeren said. "I think Western is a really good football team. I think they're a really good football team. I think our offense clicked. I think our defense played at a high level.

"They're going to beat a lot of teams this year. They just hit a situation where our guys caught fire, and that happens sometimes in a game."

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