DEKALB – They’ve beaten the odds, quieted doubters, and stopped the hearts of their fans all over the course of 12 football games and three months this fall.
It’s been that kinda stretch for Northern Illinois, who has come off a winless pandemic-shortened 2020 season produce one of their more entertaining seasons in program history. They went from worst in the Mid-American Conference West Division to first place in the span of a year, doing so in thrilling fashion in almost every win.
Now a familiar destination awaits them with hopes of achieving a goal which they have a few times in the past.
The Huskies will face East Division champion Kent State in the MAC Championship Game at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday at 11 AM. It marks the eighth time in 12 years in which NIU has appeared in the title game, winning their last appearance against Buffalo in 2018.
It’s NIU’s ninth appearance overall, and if they win it they’d tie Marshall for the most championship game wins with five.
” For us to be back in the MAC Championship after being there in 2018, it’s a good feeling,” said senior linebacker Lance Deveaux. Jr. “I think guys are just taking it in and enjoying the moment.”
No one would blame them after they made quite a turnaround from an 0-6 season a year ago with the 22 starters who returned for 2021. A 22-21 upset win over Georgia Tech on the road to being the season only foreshadowed what was to come over the next 11 games.
After splitting four non-conference games, the Huskies proceeded to win six of their eight MAC games by a possession or less. Two of those wins came by a point and another by two, and NIU lost to their conference title game opponent by just five when the teams met on November 3rd on Kent State’s homefield.
An overtime win over Buffalo clinched the unlikely division championship on November 17th and it was needed since they dropped their season finale to Western Michigan 42-21 in DeKalb six days later.
Yet that defeat is far from the minds of the team or Thomas Hammock, who was named the MAC’s Coach of the Year this past week. He hopes the Huskies enter Ford Field on Saturday with the same mindset they did in Atlanta on September 4th against the Yellow Jackets and every other game since in 2021.
“We are going to embrace this opportunity, put everything on the line for 60 minutes, and we’re going to live with the results,” said Hammock. “Nobody thought we would be here, we’ve beaten the odds, now we have 60 minutes to beat the odds one more time.”