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Published: Monday, 12/20/2010

N. Illinois closes out record season with Humanitarian Bowl win

BOISE — Northern Illinois spent the last two weeks dealing with turmoil, first losing a conference title and then its head coach.

The Huskies took out whatever frustration was left on Fresno State.

Quarterback Chandler Harnish ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and Northern Illinois made interim coach Tom Matukewicz a winner in his only game in charge with a 40-17 victory over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl on Saturday night.

Northern Illinois (11-3) earned a school-record 11th victory by settling a turbulent two-week stretch that started with a loss to Miami, Ohio in the Mid-American Conference title game, then was compounded 48 hours later by the departure of head coach Jerry Kill for Minnesota.

That left Matukewicz in charge for the Huskies. His goal was getting his players to focus for two weeks and not worry about what changes might be coming when Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren is done game planning for TCU in the Rose Bowl and becomes the new head coach — with Matukewicz staying on as linebackers coach.

Goal accomplished. NIU won its first bowl game since 2004, and Matukewicz pumped his fists around his jubilant team after getting a water bucket dump in the final minute, which was followed by blowing snow as the Huskies celebrated on the field.

Harnish finished 17 of 25 for 300 yards passing and another 72 yards rushing. It helped his receivers made highlight catches — like Perez Ashford's fingertip grab on the sideline and Willie Clark's mid-route adjustment for 32-yard gain — and Fresno State's defensive line getting no pressure on Harnish.

Running back Chad Spann added 95 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 22 rushing TDs on the season and, for now, put him one ahead of Oregon's LaMichael James for most in the country.

Fresno State (8-5) continued its troubling postseason trend of playing up against BCS opponents, but struggling against those from non-automatic qualifying conferences. In its last 11 bowl appearances, the Bulldogs are 4-1 against BCS teams and 0-6 against the others.

Ryan Colburn threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, including an 11-yard strike to Jamal Hamier on Fresno State's first possession. But Colburn was sacked six times — three by Jake Coffman — and the Bulldogs offense couldn't match NIU.

Running back Robbie Rouse, who missed the Bulldogs regular season finale against Illinois after hand surgery, was held to 32 yards with a long of 21.

In its two games on Boise's blue turf this season, the Bulldogs were outscored 91-17.

After failing on fourth down at the Fresno State 31 on their opening possession, the Huskies were not stopped. They scored the next seven times they touched the ball, getting touchdown runs of 7 and 28 yards from Harnish, and a 22-yard TD pass to Kyle Skarb in the final minute of the first half to take a 23-10 lead.

Micahel Cklamovski added a career-best 51-yard field goal on the Huskies first possession of the second half to extend their lead to 26-10. After Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn fumbled at the NIU 11, the Huskies went 89 yards, capped by Spann's 28-yard dash for a 33-10 lead.

Spann added one more, an 8-yard run, early in the fourth quarter to give the Huskies a 30-point lead and set a school record. NIU was finally stopped on its final offensive drive of the night.

Fresno State's offense looked just fine in taking a 7-0 lead when Hamler dragged his toes on the sideline for 11-yard TD. But the Bulldogs offense did very little from there.

The Bulldogs had one last chance to make it a game, driving 72 yards to the Huskies 8 late in the third quarter, but on third down, Colburn was sacked and fumbled, and NIU's Tommy Davis made the recovery.

Fresno State has lost three straight bowl games.


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