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Huskies hopeful for return to Motor City

Northern Illinois tailback JasmHopkins has helped Huskies tobrink MAC Championship game. | Paul Beaty ~ AP

Northern Illinois tailback Jasmin Hopkins has helped the Huskies tothe brink of the MAC Championship game. | Paul Beaty ~ AP

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Updated: November 21, 2011 4:21PM

Back to Detroit.

There’s a lot riding on it for Northern Illinois — a return trip to the Motor City and a second straight appearance in the Mid-American Conference Championship Game — but will they come when the Huskies play Nov. 25?

Northern (8-3, 6-1) can wrap up the MAC West title on senior day with a win at home against Eastern Michigan in its fourth straight appearance on national television. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU and the network and league have announced it will start at 10 a.m. on what has become a pseudo national holiday known as Black Friday.

That’s the bad news, along with the fact that most NIU students will be off campus on break.

The good? Many stores are opening as early as midnight the night before.

“It is a holiday weekend,” said NIU Athletic Director Jeff Compher. “It’s not like many people are working, unless you work retail. Maybe they’ll shop online or take advantage of those sales and get their shopping done early.”

Northern enters on a six-game winning streak with the last three played on Tuesdays to accommodate ESPN. This week’s win at home against Ball State drew 12,391 fans to Huskie Stadium, which holds almost twice that number (23,850).

“That’s part of what our league does,” continued Compher. “We all know there’s a possibility of playing on this day to get national exposure for our programs.

“Not only do we have an unbelievable team, it’s senior day and they’ve got a lot to play for. We just hope people come out to honor these seniors, who will be playing in their fourth bowl game this year. That’s unprecedented for us.”

House of horrors

“Our guys are excited to be playing on the day after Thanksgiving for a chance to return to Detroit,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren. “We’ll have 10 days to get ready for a very good Eastern Michigan (6-4, 4-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Kent State) team.”

The MAC Championship will be played the following Friday at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. Northern has made the trip twice and not fared well. Both games went down to the last possession with the Huskies losing 31-30 to Akron (2005) and 26-21 to Miami last year.

Hoping to erase the bitter memory of that loss has been a motivating force all season for the current team.

See ya

Ball State coach Pete Lembo is happy to see NIU fifth-year senior QB Chandler Harnish go.

“He’s a great player and he’s got a great supporting cast as well,” said Lembo. “Their skill people are even better than I thought after seeing them on tape. I’m very happy he’s graduating. I’m also glad another 12 to 13 of his teammates on the offensive side are getting their Northern Illinois degrees.”

A first for Sims

Sophomore kicker Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo.) said of his game-winning 34-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining: “That was the first time ever I got a game-winning kick, high school or college.”

Sims also made a 23-yarder and is 17-of-22 (77 percent) for the season.

Injury report

Redshirt sophomore Jared Volk (Hartland, Wis.) got his first career start at left guard in place of injured Logan Pegram. Doeren didn’t disclose details of the injury, but Pegram was on the sideline in street clothes and on crutches for the game.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jamison Wells (Combined Locks, Wis.) had one reception for 18 yards early in the game but was later spotted on the sideline still in uniform but on crutches with an apparent lower right leg injury.

Falling records

Tuesday’s win over Ball State was the 14th straight at home for Northern.

QB Chandler Harnish’s 519 total yards (338 passing, 181 rushing) broke the school record for a game. The previous mark of 477 was set by QB Phil Horvath in 2005 at Akron in which he set the school passing yardage record of 486.

The Huskies set a school record with 43 first downs, breaking the previous mark of 36 set in 1990 in a win over Fresno State. The NCAA record is 45.

The local guys

Senior middle linebacker Pat Schiller of Geneva led the team with nine tackles and added two pass breakups and half a tackle-for-loss.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Santacaterina of Geneva had three tackles and shared that TFL with Schiller.

Redshirt freshman nose guard Frank Boenzi had a tackle-for-loss that cost Ball State running back Jahwann Edwards minus three yards.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Bobby Winkel, a Marmion graduate from Batavia, saw action for the third game this season and recorded his first tackle of the season on a punt, when he stopped Ball State returner Jamill Smith for a two-yard loss.

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