Maybe the cold practices do work.
Something lit a fire under the Northern Illinois football team in the Glass Bowl on Wednesday. Whether it was the prospect of not being eligible for a bowl game, having roaring flame in their belly, whatever it may be, the Huskies were full of it in NIU's 31-28 win over Toledo.
In every way concievable through nonconference play, and then after five MAC games, nothing pointed toward a Huskie rendevous back at Ford Field in Detroit.
Imagine having thought this was possible following a 48-10 thumping in Mount Pleasant less than two weeks ago.
The Huskies (4-6, 3-3 MAC) had prepared in the 17 degree weather on Monday and freezing weather the week before heading to Toledo, eschewing the comforts of the Chessick Practice Center. And it was the Huskies who looked to be the aggressors most of the way in keeping their MAC title game hopes alive.
For NIU to get to Detroit and play for a second consecutive MAC championship, the Huskies must:
• Win out in home games against Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan, AND
• Have Central Michigan beat Ball State, AND
• Have Toledo win out, AND
• Have Ball State win its games against Kent State and Miami
Marcus Childers and Tyrice Richie were used efficiently, with Childers rushing for a 40-yard score in the first half to give NIU a 14-7 lead it carried into the half. His arm helped push the Huskies down the field on several drives, and NIU seems to have found the type of two-quarterback system that can work in the MAC.
The defense bent, and did not break, yielding one score before late in the third quarter. The scare Toledo (6-4, 3-3) provided late in the game isn't enough to take away the way NIU handled its business in a game where the Huskies could have packed up their tents and went home after early offensive success from the Rockets.
Down starting center C.J. Perez and guard Benn Olson, the Huskie offensive line managed to put together the best looking overall performance from the unit all season. Credit reserves Logan Zschernitz and Austin Warner with adding strong looks off the bench. Marques Cox and Nathan Veloz opened up large holes for Tre Harbison to tie a season-high with 158 rushing yards.
Cole Tucker caught a reception for a first down and earned a pass interference call on third down to move the chains on the winning drive. The Huskies ran the ball seven times to set up John Richardson's 25-yard game-winning field goal.
NIU even won the turnover battle on the road with fumble recoveries from Trayshon Foster and Marshé Terry.
Given the untimely dropped punt snap from Matt Ference and the Huskies corners looking lost at times in the second half, maybe there was a bit of luck in the Huskies escaping the Glass Bowl with a win.
But the Huskies, leading at one point 28-7, put themselves in a position to run away with a November road game with a team depleted by injuries.
So now you've got drama. NIU and Toledo are both at three losses in the conference and the Huskies aren't eliminated from playing in the MAC title game, as noted in the scenarios above.
Go figure. Perhaps the Huskies are inclined to go about this The Hard Way after all.