Dec. 31, 2004 wire reports
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Rain couldn't stop them. Mud only slowed them. Even the gloom of night was no obstacle to a landmark victory for coach Joe Novak and his Northern Illinois players.

Josh Haldi passed for 146 yards and rushed for two touchdowns to lead Northern Illinois through mud and rain to its first bowl victory in 21 years, 34-21 over Troy on Thursday night in the Silicon Valley Football Classic.

With backup tailback A.J. Harris rushing for 120 yards and a score, Northern Illinois (9-3) overcame a steady downpour, lighting problems and a delayed kickoff by scoring 34 straight points in this unlikely postseason matchup of schools with one previous bowl appearance between them.

The victory is a high point in Novak's quest to make Northern Illinois into a mid-major powerhouse. They didn't get a bowl invitation last year despite going 10-2 - but for the first time since winning the 1983 California Bowl, the Huskies have a trophy to take back to DeKalb.

"We've taken another big step with our program," Novak said. "We've still got things we want to do, but this is a great step for everyone here. We're sending out a great group of seniors with a victory in a bowl game, which is exactly what we wanted to do."

Garrett Wolfe, the NCAA's scoring co-leader, rushed for his 21st touchdown of the season for Northern Illinois before leaving with a hip injury.

But behind Harris and Haldi, the Huskies methodically erased a quick start by the Trojans (7-5), who scored two touchdowns in the first nine minutes of Troy's first bowl game in just its fourth season in Division I-A. Troy allowed a season-high 213 yards rushing.


"A loss puts a damper on me, but it's not the end of the world," Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. "We can't leave the defense out there against a big offensive line and a great back."

DeWhitt Betterson rushed for 150 yards for the Trojans, and D.T. McDowell threw a touchdown pass and rushed for two more scores. But Troy got stuck in the mud at Spartan Stadium, unable to move the ball effectively or stop the Huskies' rushing attack.

"Sometimes you start fast, and then run into bumps in the road," Betterson said. "We were having success, but the condition of the field took its toll on us."

Haldi and the Huskies overcame more than Troy's vaunted defense, which was among the national leaders in several statistical categories.

A day of intermittent rain left the Spartan Stadium field slick and soaked, and though more than 21,000 tickets were distributed, no more than 5,000 fans braved the miserable conditions.

In addition, an electrical transformer outside the stadium malfunctioned shortly before kickoff, affecting the television crew and two stanchions of lights. The game began 23 minutes late under relatively dim lighting.

Yet both teams insisted on throwing long passes through the rain. McDowell threw 10 straight incompletions at one point, and Haldi was scarcely better -- but Northern Illinois mixed in enough runs to keep moving consistently.

Troy curiously cast aside its usual offensive caution and opened with aggressive downfield throws -- and for a little while, it worked. On the game's seventh play, McDowell hit Jason Samples with a 45-yard pass to the Northern Illinois 1 for the Trojans' longest pass of the season.

McDowell scored on a keeper and then led another scoring drive, hitting Richardson with a 23-yard screen pass. But Northern Illinois responded with a 50-yard TD run by Wolfe.

"There was a little bit of concern, but once Garrett popped that (run), we got back in the flow a little bit," Haldi said. "I think it took a couple of series to get back to game speed, but once we got going, we did pretty well."

After Haldi scored on the next drive, the rain limited both offenses until Haldi scored again on a 1-yard keeper 34 seconds before halftime.

Harris scored on a 3-yard run early in the fourth quarter, and Chris Nendick kicked two field goals.

The Associated Press News Service

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