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Northern Illinois not so bad


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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- The program known for its 23-game losing streak beat the one famous for Bear Bryant and national championships.

Josh Haldi threw two second-half touchdown passes and Michael Turner ran for 156 yards as Northern Illinois beat Alabama (No. 21 AP) 19-16 on Saturday night.

"When you talk Alabama, you're talking one of the best," Huskies coach Joe Novak said. "This is a win we'll never forget."

Nor will Alabama (2-2), a 14-point favorite that couldn't muster much second-half offense or bring down Turner.

"We played pitiful tonight," said Tide tailback Shaud Williams, stymied until a 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. "We couldn't have beaten anybody the way we played tonight.

"We played pathetic. I've never been so embarrassed in my life."

Then again, there's no shame in losing to the Huskies (3-0) these days. The team that couldn't win in the 1990s toppled its second ranked team of the season after opening with an overtime upset of Maryland (then No. 14 ESPN/USA Today, No. 15 AP).

Northern Illinois had been 0-8 against Southeastern Conference teams.

"We don't get a lot of opportunities to come down to the Mecca of college football and play a team like Alabama," said Haldi, who was 16-of-24 for 149 yards.

Northern Illinois borrowed the Bear's formula, pounding between the tackles, stuffing the run and using a low-risk passing game that was just enough.

Williams burst between the tackles for his long score with 5:36 left in the Tide's only big running play, making it 19-16. Alabama got the ball back just over a minute later after a defensive stop.

The Tide converted a fourth-and-2 on Brodie Croyle's 5-yard pass to Triandos Luke, but still couldn't get past its own 40.

Three plays later, Croyle fumbled after ****ing his arm to throw and had to fall on it for an 8-yard loss. He underthrew Luke on fourth-and-11 with Javan Lee hitting him as he threw, and the Huskies ran out the clock.

Alabama was ranked for the first time under first-year coach Mike Shula, but was outplayed by a lesser-known program with a growing knack for knocking off big-name opponents.

Novak said this was the team's biggest win, but didn't sound too surprised.

"Our kids have been in these arenas before," he said. "The kids don't come into these arenas and get intimidated. We come in thinking we've got a chance to win."

Turner wore out Alabama's defense, carrying 27 times and gaining 98 second-half yards. Alabama had been allowing 50 rushing yards a game.

Haldi was sacked five times and hit frequently, but came through in the second half. First, he hit Shatone Powers for a 12-yard scoring pass with 6:05 left in the third quarter.

He hooked up on a 48-yard TD to Dan Sheldon with 7:28 to play, on third-and-8. The play came after seven straight runs by Turner and A.J. Harris.

Alabama then held Northern Illinois without a first down, but couldn't get anything going on its final drive.

"Those are the kind of games where you've got to find a way," Shula said. "Somebody's got to step up and make a play and find a way to get it done. We didn't do that in any phase."

Croyle was 22-of-39 for 276 yards with a 28-yard scoring pass to Zach Fletcher in the first quarter.

Neither team turned the ball over.

Alabama's best field position to start its first five drives of the second half was its own 14. Croyle's three passes of 20-plus yards accounted for the only first downs.

Northern Illinois clobbered Alabama in special teams in the first half but trailed 9-5, a strange score arrived at in even stranger fashion.

Steve Azar kicked a 51-yard field goal, Kevin Woods returned a blocked extra point for two points and Jason Hawkins blocked a punt. Woods' return was the first ever defensive PAT for Northern Illinois.

"It's tough, you can't even celebrate for a second with your touchdown," Shula said. "Now all of a sudden it's 6-2."

Northern Illinois has blocked 13 kicks in its past 16 games.

"I really don't think they respected us as much as they should have," Huskies receiver P.J. Fleck said. "Sometimes the most talented teams don't win football games, and I really think they're more athletic.

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As a Northern Illinois alum, I couldn't be prouder. :cool:

Those of you who went to smaller schools (footballwise) can appreciate how NIU fans feel these days. We were everyone's homecoming opponent for a long, long time. But the recruiting slowly improved and I watched as the games became more and more competitive.

MAC football as a whole is looking very good right now. I know they aren't up there with the SEC, Big Ten and PAC 10 - MAC teams don't have the depth. But usually MAC teams can scrape together a pretty good starting squad. If injuries don't wipe 'em out, they can compete.

And it's become a league that's more pass-oriented, which makes it fun. Having said that, NIU's Michael Turner may be a legitimate Heisman candidate (Heck, he had 1,900 yds last year). But Marshall's back-up QB did a nice job on K-State. And NIU's Haldi makes teams pay for stacking the line trying to stop Turner.

My grad alma mater, U. of Memphis, is playing well this year too. The C-USA will probably fall apart as the Big League picks off our best teams, but there's some quality ball being played in the mid-south as well as the mid-west.

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