Marshall hits the road

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 22, 1999

The Associated Press

It’s amazing what winning can do for a team.

Friday, October 22, 1999

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It’s amazing what winning can do for a team. In one of the most remarkable turnarounds of the season, Northern Illinois has reeled off three wins in a row.

”We’ve won more games in the last 2 1/2 weeks than we won in the previous 3 1/2 years,” coach Joe Novak marveled.

After a 31-27 comeback victory over Central Michigan last week, Northern Illinois has a 3-4 record and its 3-1 mark puts it in second place just a game out of first in the Mid-American Conference’s West Division.

Not only that, but only one of the Huskies’ final four opponents has a winning record. This week, they host Kent (1-6).

Kent coach Dean Pees has noticed the Huskies’ turnaround and would love to follow suit. The Flashes have lost two games by seven or fewer points and are badly in need of a win to end a three-game slide.

”Joe’s got those guys believing,” Pees said. ”He knows what I’m going through because he’s been through it. He’s got his guys believing and playing hard, and they’re going to be hard to beat, especially in DeKalb.”

Novak inherited a team that went 3-8 and lost its last five games when he came to DeKalb in 1996. His teams went 1-10, 0-11 and 2-9 his first three years and appeared to be on the verge of another dismal year that might have been enough to put him in the unemployment line.

But instead of losing close games – 27-21 to Western Illinois, 34-31 to Vanderbilt, 24-21 to Western Michigan in their 0-4 start – it was the Huskies who started pulling wins out at the finish.

They blew away winless Buffalo 45-21 on the road and drilled winless Ball State 37-17 in the homecoming game.

In other MAC games Saturday, Marshall (6-0, 3-0 East) is at Buffalo (0-6, 0-5 East), Ball State (0-6, 0-3 West) travels to Western Michigan (5-2, 4-0 West), Eastern Michigan (2-4, 2-2 West) is at Toledo (3-3, 2-2 West) and Bowling Green (2-5, 1-4 East) goes to Ohio (2-5, 2-2 East).

FROM THE ASHES: On Nov. 14, 1970, Marshall’s charter jet slammed into the ground on final approach on the return flight from a game at East Carolina. Seventy-five players, coaches, administrators and fans lost their lives.

Here’s what current coach Bob Pruett had to say about the legacy of that tragedy and the Thundering Herd’s remarkable success this decade:

”We’re living a miracle here. This is something that’s hard to fathom that it can happen. From 1968 to 1983 Marshall lost 149 football games – and a football team. We’ve risen from the ashes of a plane crash and being the losingest football program in America to now we’re the winningest program in Division I football. That’s a miracle. It’s a miracle that’s been done by a bunch of people, not just myself. We’re extremely pleased, and our community is elated and excited and thrilled.”