Chuck Martin is in luck.
The Miami RedHawks’ head coach spent last Wednesday night looking for a trophy and was disappointed when one didn’t appear after his team defeated Ohio in the Battle of the Bricks. That won’t be a problem this week.
Tomorrow, Martin’s RedHawks (4-6, 4-2 Mid-American) travel to Dekalb, Ill. to take on the MAC West-leading Northern Illinois Huskies (7-3, 6-0 MAC) and, for the first time ever, the two squads will play for the Mallory Cup.
The contest, complete with a trophy prize for the victors, honors the late Bill Mallory, who died in May. Mallory served as the head coach at both Miami and Northern Illinois during his illustrious career, winning a combined 64 games and two MAC Championships between the two schools.
“I got to know [Mallory] a little bit,” Martin said. “I’ve known his family. Preseason, we had even talked to the kids about, ‘We’re going to play football this year that, when Bill Mallory’s looking down on us, he’s going to have a lot of pride in how this team plays.’
“For us, it’s a huge deal for a lot of reasons, this game, but that adds to it. Knowing he’s going to be watching down on our football team. I’m sure Northern feels the same way.”
Martin exchanged text messages with one of Mallory’s sons after Miami’s victory over Ohio.
“He was talking about how competitive and how hard we fought and how hard we hung in there,” Martin said. “I said, ‘Hey, I think your dad would’ve been proud yesterday.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think he would’ve been proud, too.’”
Miami gave Martin and Mallory a lot to be proud of, scoring 30 points for the seventh consecutive game to claim its first Battle of the Bricks win since 2012. Martin had previously never beaten Ohio in his five seasons in Oxford.
But the biggest point of pride for the RedHawks: they kept their season alive. Had they lost, they would’ve been eliminated from the conference championship race and bowl eligibility. They need to win their last two games to make those postseason aspirations a reality.
Martin didn’t allow his team to celebrate the win over the Bobcats for very long. He said he fell asleep with a smile on his face Wednesday night but went back to devising the game plan for Northern Illinois when he woke up on Thursday morning.
The Huskies present a unique challenge for Miami, as they remain unbeaten in MAC games.
“Defensively, they’re the best team in this league, in my opinion, by a wide margin,” Martin said.
And he isn’t just spitting fluffy coach rhetoric. The Huskies rank as the no. 1 defense in the MAC, allowing just 21 points per game. They’ve surrendered 21 touchdowns on the season. Miami’s given up 38.
Luckily for the ’Hawks, Northern Illinois’ offense isn’t as threatening. It scores an average of 21.1 points per game. Miami counters with a unit that’s put up 28.2 points per game this season. In MAC games, that number leaps to 36.8 — good for third-best in the conference.
The offensive Huskies to watch are their three leading rushers: redshirt sophomore running back Tre Harbinson, redshirt junior running back Marcus Jones and redshirt sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers. The trio has run for a combined 1,610 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018.
Dekalb has proven to be a tough place to play for the RedHawks, who haven’t won a game there since 1998. Northern Illinois beat Miami 45-12 at Yager Stadium the last time the two schools met in 2015.
Miami hopes to honor Bill Mallory with its performance in Wednesday’s 8 p.m. game. ESPNU will air the crucial, late-season contest.