DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) –NIU’s football team playing in the MAC Championship game seems so right. The Huskies have played in it eight times previously and they’ll do it again this Saturday in Detroit when they take on Kent State.
Kent State is one of only two MAC teams that have knocked off the Huskies. That game was November third in Ohio. Rocky Lombardi passed for an NIU record 532 yards and receiver Trayvon Rudolph had a MAC record 309 yards receiving. The Huskies put 47 points on the board, but they still lost 52-
“We almost gave up 700 yards the last time we played them, right?” said NIU coach Thomas Hammock Tuesday. “What if we can do less? Just give up less.”
Hammock has been a part of one MAC Championship game. That was in 2005 when he was the running backs coach for the Huskies under Joe Novak. The Huskies lost that game to Akron 31-30 on the final play of the game. Hammock says his guys can’t take this championship game opportunity for granted.
“I’ve talked about the 2005 team with coach Novak. I believe that was the only championship game he was a part of, so you can never say just because I’m young we’re going to be here the next year. You have to make the most of your opportunity.”
Getting to the MAC Championship game is a remarkable achievement for any football team, but especially so for this group. These Huskies are the second youngest team in the nation in major college football. Just last fall they were 0-6, and in August in the preseason they were picked to finish last in the MAC West. There’s a life lesson to be learned there in this worst to first scenario.”
“I think the life lesson is, you know, you just have to block out all the outside noise,” said NIU receiver Cole Tucker. “I mean, they’re not, all the reporters that picked us to be last they’re not here. They didn’t watch us workout in the summer. They didn’t watch us practice.”
“When nobody believes in you, believe in yourself,” said NIU Rover Dillon Thomas, of the life-lesson he learned. “That’s kind of the mindset we’ve been having all season. You’re always going to have doubters out there, but you’ve just got to prove them wrong, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”
Hammock’s goal is to win Saturday. To best achieve that he wants his guys to simply enjoy the moment.
“Have fun! These kids have been playing football since they were, you know, six or seven years old. You’ve got a chance to play for a championship, to make your family proud, to make everybody that’s believed in you proud. There’s no pressure, there’s no stress right, because who thought we’d be here? Not one single person.”
The MAC Championship game will kickoff at 11 a.m. CT Saturday. It’ll be shown on ESPN.