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SPORTS

Section C Sunday December 28, 2008

The News-Star/thenewsstar.com

INDEPENDENCE BOWL SPECIAL

Louisiana Tech vs. Northern Illinois | 7 p.m. at Independence Stadium (53,000) in Shreveport | TV: ESPN | Radio: KXKZ 107.5-FM

LIFE AND LIMB Through losing seasons, coaching changes, and broken bones, Quin Harris has remained a leader at Louisiana Tech By Ethan Conley etconley@thenewsstar.com

You have to wonder if Quin Harris would trade this season back, if he could have saved the receipt in his wallet, and presented it to the football gods when things weren’t going his way, and asked for a full refund. His senior year wasn’t supposed to unravel so quickly. Wouldn’t he rather have played the season injury-free, in his customary every-down position at outside linebacker, the post he manned the two previous seasons, even if it meant no winning season and no bowl berth? To have his senior season

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I love being a part of this team.” derailed after less than a half of football just doesn’t seem fair. The thought of taking a mulligan has to have crossed his mind, right? “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Harris said. “I understand I’ve had some personal loss here, but I’d like to think that I have contributed. I love being a part of this team.” All of twenty-six minutes and 17 seconds had elapsed in Louisiana Tech’s 2008 season when Harris

chased down Mississippi State running back Christian Ducre after a three-yard gain and found his right arm tangled in a losing battle with Ducre’s scissoring legs. Harris played the remainder of the game — a 22-14 Louisiana Tech victory — with a broken wrist. The pain was significant, but tolerable, and Harris was back on the field the next week, starting at linebacker with his forearm in a cast. He wouldn’t be kept off the

field, not in his final season, and not with all that his father, who played football at Stanford, and his grandfather, who played at USC, had taught him about toughness. The bone slowly healed, but in a rub-some-dirt-on-it-and-get-backon-the-field sort of fashion. The ends of the bone were fused together by scar tissue, like a Chinese finger trap holding the tip of one index finger to another. The calcified tissue held for six games, but during a Tuesday practice before an early November game against Fresno State, it could hold no more. A glancing blow re-broke the bone, and this time it was a

See HARRIS 2C

Follow Louisiana Tech’s road to the Independence Bowl, 2C | West Monroe basketball starts strong, 3C | Saints face Panthers, 4C

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INDEPENDENCE BOWL

2C SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2008

THE NEWS-STAR WWW.THENEWSSTAR.COM

The path to Independence: Recapping Tech’s season AUG30 W 22-14 vs. Mississippi State

Hosting an SEC opponent for the first time in its history, Louisiana Tech trailed 14-3 late in the second quarter, then scored 19 unanswered points. Tech forced Mississippi State into five turnovers, committed just two turnovers of its own, and allowed only 79 net rushing yards.

SEPT1

L 29-0 W 41-26

In the first of several disappointing efforts on the road, Tech surrendered 412 passing yards and three touchdowns to Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing. The Bulldogs squandered several scoring opportunities, including a 22-play drive to the 5-yard line that ended with an interception in the end zone.

L 38-3 L 24-14 W 46-14 L 14-7 W 38-35 W 21-0 W 45-38 W 35-31 L 35-31

Timid playcalling and terrible pass defense doomed the Bulldogs in their WAC opener. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore completed 20-of-28 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns, and the Broncos tallied 26 first downs to Tech’s 13.

at Kansas

SEPT20

vs. Southeastern La.

OCT1

at Boise State

OCT11

at Hawaii

OCT18

vs. Idaho

OCT25

at Army

NOV1

vs. Fresno State

NOV8

at San Jose State

NOV15

vs. Utah State

NOV22

at New Mexico State

NOV29

vs. Nevada

Tech played a sloppy first half, and Southeastern trailed by just one point midway through the second quarter, 21-20. Weldon Brown returned a block field goal 50 yards for a touchdown just before halftime, and Daniel Porter scampered 23 yards to the end zone in the third quarter to seal the win.

After tying the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter, Tech gave up two touchdowns in a one-minute span, and trailed 21-7 at halftime. Ross Jenkins replaced Taylor Bennett at quarterback in the fourth quarter. Jenkins would be named the starter the following Monday. Jenkins completed 13-of-20 pass attempts for 192 yards, and Porter ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns to lead Tech in a dominating performance. The Bulldogs’ defense held Idaho to 15 net rushing yards, and Tech outgained the Vandals 556 yards to 239. Battling wind, rain, and Army’s tricky triple-option offense, the Bulldogs were held scoreless in the first half, tied the game at 7-7 in the third quarter, then allowed the Black Knights to score the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. The offensive line took the bulk of the blame for the loss. Making amends for the Army game, the Tech offensive line manhandled the Fresno defense, paving the way for 280 rush yards. Porter ran for 189 yards and two touchdowns, and Phillip Livas returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown. Tech finally exorcised its road demons, shutting out the Spartans to earn its first road victory of the season. The Bulldogs defense held San Jose State to six first downs and 148 yards of total offense. Running back Patrick Jackson scored the 30th touchdown of his career, and Porter ran for 102 yards. The Bulldogs reached bowl eligibility with a shootout win over the Aggies. Tech led 35-17 in the third quarter, but Utah State rallied to take the lead after three unanswered touchdowns. Porter ended Tech’s dry spell with a 22-yard touchdown run, and Brad Oestriecher iced the win with a 22-yard field goal. Proving the San Jose State game wasn’t a fluke, Tech won its second consecutive road game. The game unfolded much like the Utah State game, with Tech taking an early lead, allowing three straight scores, then rallying for the win in the final minutes. Tech played its best football of the season for nearly three quarters, then fell apart. Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 397 yards and four touchdowns as Tech’s inability to finish in the fourth quarter finally proved to be fatal.

LOUISIANA TECH (7-5, 5-3 WAC) VS. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (6-6, 5-3 MAC) Independence Bowl in Shreveport | Today 7 p.m. | TV: ESPN | Radio: KXKZ 107.5-FM

OPENING DRIVE Neither of these teams was expected to make such significant strides in 2008. Tech was coming off a 5-7 season in its second year under head coach Derek Dooley, while NIU was in its first season under head coach Jerry Kill, and one year removed from a 2-10 overall record. The teams earned a bowl berth with a similar blueprint: establishing the run on offense, and stopping the run on defense.

KEYS TO VICTORY

NORTHERN ILLINOIS SCHEDULE Aug. 30 at Minnesota — L 31-27 Sept. 6 at Western Michigan — L 29-26 Sept. 20 vs. Indiana State — W 48-3 Sept. 27 at Eastern Michigan — W 37-0 Oct. 4 at Tennessee — L 13-9 Oct. 11 vs. Miami (Ohio) — W 17-13 Oct. 18 vs. Toledo — W 38-7 Oct. 25 vs. Bowling Green — W 16-13 Nov. 5 vs. Ball State — L 45-14 Nov. 12 vs. Central Michigan — L 33-30 (OT) Nov. 18 at Kent State — W 42-14 Nov. 25 vs. Navy — L 16-0

Tech ended the regular season on a sour note, blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead in a loss to Nevada. The Bulldogs must play with the same intensity in the fourth quarter as they do in the first three. The Bulldogs have had trouble putting opponents away. If they manage to build a comfortable lead against the Huskies, they can’t afford to ease off the gas pedal.

the Tech offensive line need to slow English’s rush on passing downs, and blow him off the line on running downs.

TOP MATCHUP

’08 IMPLICATIONS

Tech offensive tackles Rob McGill and Cudahy Harmon will have their hands full with Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English. English earned Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year honors, and is a dangerous pass rusher. McGill, Harmon, and the rest of

A win would give Tech eight wins for the first time since the 1999 season and send its seniors out as winners. It would also give the Bulldogs — who will return most of their key components on offense — great momentum as they head into the offseason.

HARRIS From page 1C

break that a few days of rest and a few rolls of athletic tape wouldn’t fix. “Probably the lightest hit I’ve ever taken,” Harris said, yet he’d never felt more intense pain in his life. He didn’t play against Fresno State or the following week against San Jose State, watching from the sideline as Tech won its first back-to-back games of the season. He was back in uniform for wins against Utah State and New Mexico State, but only as a blocker on the punt team. Tech was in the midst of its first four-game winning streak in a decade, and Harris was barely on the field. He was a freshman all over again. Harris, a product of California’s Central Valley, had plenty of options to choose from as a high school senior. Fresno State and Oregon offered preferred walk-on status in football. Four or five soccer scholarships were on the table, including one from UC-Santa Barbara, where he would have competed for national championships. But he wanted to play football — on scholarship. Louisiana Tech got wind of Harris’ talent through connections at a

California junior college, and on a visit to Ruston, he fell in love with the smalltown atmosphere. “It’s easy when everybody embraces you, from Monroe to Shreveport and Ruston,” Harris said. “It’s easy to fall in love with a place like that, where everyone is so respectful, and you see the manner in which the program is run. It’s a great representative of how things should be done.” After taking a redshirt year, Harris was a regular contributor in 2005, and a Tom Morris/latechsportspix.com starter in 2006. But 2006 Quin Harris played in 10 games this season for Tech also brought a 3-10 season, despite breaking his right wrist — twice. the firing of then-head coach Jack Bicknell, and an air of uncertainty. “It was a hard transition, Quin Harris’ senior season was filled with adversity, as far as being in that void but he still set a standard of excellence for Louisiana where no one knew what Tech student-athletes. Harris was a finalist for the was going on. The players Draddy Award, given each year to the student-athlete were all concerned about playing time, and who was who best combines on-field performance, academic starting, and who the success, and community service. coaches would be. It “I wanted to leave a good mark on the university opened up questions, and and the program,” Harris said. “There are so many we may have started who view football players with a lot of negative doubting. But as soon as images, and I wanted to make a positive impact.” coach (Derek) Dooley —Ethan Conley came in, he amplified the level of intensity. We knew we all wanted to be here.” seasons that were knocked every practice, and he was off course at the first sign involved in every pracTech went 5-7 in its first of adversity. So he pre- tice,” Dooley said. “He was season under Dooley. pared himself for a few involved in the games. A Harris hoped for the best road bumps. He got more lot of guys will get hurt, heading into his final year, than he bargained for, but and then they’re in the red but he knew better than to never lost focus. He was as shirt on muscle beach, and expect it all to be smooth much a part of the team as (strength coach Damon) sailing. He’d seen too ever. Harrington is the only one many stories on “Even though (Harris) who knows what they’re SportsCenter about senior wasn’t playing, he was at doing. Quin was not like

BEYOND FOOTBALL

AP

Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English works out with other members of the team at a morning practice. that.” The Bulldogs chose their team captains in the week leading up to their season finale against Nevada. Harris was one of the three, and there was little doubt among his teammates that he deserved the honor. “I don’t think we were out there without Quin,” senior cornerback Weldon Brown said. “I think Quin was on the field. His presence is big. In practice he’s always in the huddle. It doesn’t even matter if he’s hurt. Quin is there.” “I think (the coaching staff) even had to tell Quin to back out a little bit, like, ‘Quin, you need to step back a little bit. We’ll get it right.’” But the Nevada game was still the most trying moment of the season for Harris. It was senior day, but like the Utah State and San Jose State games, he was relegated to punt protection. With seven wins Tech had already wrapped up a bowl berth, and though Harris wanted to line up on defense, the coaching staff decided it wasn’t worth the risk. While he looked on from the sideline the Wolf Pack erased a 17-point third-quarter deficit and dealt Tech its most heartbreaking loss of the season. The next day Harris was near tears as he explained the “bittersweet” nature of

his final season, and vowed to be back on defense in Tech’s bowl game. “There’s no way,” he said, “that I’m going to be held out of that game. I can promise you that. ... It absolutely kills me to be out.” Today’s Independence Bowl against Northern Illinois is Harris’ second crack at a senior day. He made an unsuccessful attempt to convince the Tech training staff to let him play without a cast, but at least he’ll be lining up at linebacker again, and he’ll be doing so in a bowl game. “We achieved what we set out to do when I was a freshman, when I was just a little fish in a big pond and I got my first break on special teams,” Harris said. “I did everything I could do to be successful, and I want to give back to the team.” “I had set that as a goal for myself. It was my senior year, and I played with a broken arm, and kept playing, and broke it again. I tried not to let it get to me, to be there for the team, to be a part of it all. It’s just not the same when you’re not playing, and it meant a lot to me to be chosen as a captain. It shows my teammates have a lot of respect for me, that I’m someone they look up to and want to lead them.”


Life and Limb -- The News-Star