One visual remains on the mind of Northern Illinois football players from the day Miami (Ohio) handed NIU a 13-7 loss in DeKalb last season.
“It definitely hurt having them take the cup on our home field and take pictures on the field,” NIU safety Adam Buirge said. “We definitely remember that, and I think a lot of the older guys know what trophy games are about here.”
The 2018 game was the first edition of the Mallory Cup game, honoring the late Bill Mallory, who coached at both Miami and NIU.
The Huskies (2-4, 1-1 MAC) have voiced excitement about the development of the second trophy game for the program – The Bronze Stalk Trophy with Ball State being the other – and are gearing up for a chance to get back at the RedHawks when they play at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“The history that’s building between these two programs is really cool, and it’s really special,” Huskie offensive linemen CJ Perez said. “We’re not very happy about what happened last year, especially it happening at our place, so we’re looking to do the same thing they did to us last year.”
For freshman Michael Love, an early taste of rivalry games – Ball State was his first – is showing him the difference between how rivalry games are from high school to college.
“High school, I think it was more fun,” Love said. “We didn’t take it as serious. I can see how the older guys take this real serious. I sit back and watch that. I try to show the same energy that they give because I know it means a lot to them.”
According to Huskes coach Thomas Hammock, Bill Mallory was the type of coach who inspired.
“I played for Coach [Joe] Novak, who coached with Coach Mallory, and there’s a lot of the similar traits with the two men,” Hammock said. “Coach Mallory spoke to our team quite frequently when I was a player. I played golf with him one year at a golf outing. Just his passion as a coach, you can see through it.”
After losing his first rivalry game as head coach, Hammock wants ensure the trophy case is filled with at least one rivalry game trophy.
“Our players are going to understand the importance,” Hammock said. “We lost a trophy that we were in possession of, and that’s a bad feeling. Now they understand, don’t take anything for granted, and every game is an opportunity to go out there and play your best – and when you’re playing for a trophy, it means that much more. We’ve got an empty trophy case that we need to find a way to bring the trophy back home.”
Even after displaying a vastly improved rushing attack in a victory over Ohio, Hammock is keeping the expectations for the running backs high
“I think Tre [Harbison] is still a work in progress, as far as I’m concerned,” Hammock said. “He missed some runs in the first half. He came back and made them in the second half. We talked about playing four quarters of football. We’ve had 2 weeks in row where he’s had 100 yards in a half. Now if you go 100 yards in a half and 100 yards in another half, now we can be talking about I’m being impressed.”
Hammock had compliments for several of Miami’s playes, notably defensive tackle Doug Costin and quarterback Brett Gabbert, the younger brother of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Blaine Gabbert.