Eyes on the prize

SaturdayGÇÖs coaches share more than desire to win Mid-American Conference West.

After last year's game between Northern Illinois and Ball State, Huskies' coach Joe Novak discussed the position Ball State coach Bill Lynch was in, having just lost his 21st consecutive game. Novak spoke from experience having been in the same position just a couple of years earlier with 23 straight loses.

"I think he is a great coach, and I am not just saying that because we are friends; I have worked with him. Bill Lynch has won a hell of a lot more championships than we have. Bill Lynch is a good football coach," Novak said after his team defeated the Cards 43-14.

Novak went on to say, "thank goodness our administration stuck with us; we lost 23," to encourage the Ball State administration to stick with coach Lynch.

Ball State's administration did stick with Bill Lynch, and a year later, he will face that very same coach who stood up for him in an effort to capture a Mid-American Conference West division title.

From 1996 to 1997 Northern Illinois lost 23 consecutive games, holding the nation's longest losing streak. From 1998 to the 2000 season, Ball State took its turn with the nation's longest losing streak with 21 consecutive games.

Since those years, both teams have been climbing the Mid-American Conference ladder in an attempt to get back to the top.

This Saturday, both teams will have a chance.

If Ball State defeats Northern Illinois, the Cards will win the MAC West title whereas if the Huskies win, Ball State would be eliminated from the picture and Northern Illinois would be crowned.

Not only did the teams hold major losing streaks around the same time, the Ball State and Northern Illinois both acquired their current coaches only a year apart.

Bill Lynch started at Ball State in 1995 while Joe Novak was named the Huskies head coach in 1996.

Even more closely related are the coach's pasts. They each held jobs in the coaching staff at Indiana University in 1993 and 1994.

To this day, each coach holds respect for the other.

"I have great respect for Joe and his staff," Lynch said. "What I respect is that he has had a philosophy from day one on how he is going to recruit, how he is going to treat people and what the goals of the program were."

"He knows what it's going to take to be successful -- work and consistency. That's exactly what they have done," Lynch said. "Over the past two years they have been a team that has been right there at the top of the league, and that's why they are playing for a co-championship Saturday."

"I certainly have a respect for what (Ball State) is doing, and we are trying to do it the same way," Novak said.

"Ball State is sitting in the seat I'd like to be in. They have everything under their control," Novak said. "To Bill and Ball State's credit, they beat Toledo. That was key."

Lynch has taken the past two games the teams have met -- both loses for the Cards -- and tried to take a page out of Novak's book.

"We are trying to take things from them," Lynch said. "They have stomped us the last two years. They have been very very good. We have watched how hard they play and the enthusiasm that they play with. "

With both coaches having such a similar past and what Lynch referred to as a "similar philosophy on the way that a game should be played," both coaches expect a close game come Saturday.

"We have been shooting for an opportunity like this," Novak said. "I expect a heck of a football game on Saturday. Our kids are going to be ready to play, and I'm darn sure theirs will be, too."

"I think we are pretty similar teams," Lynch said. "We both try to win games the same way. Because of that I think that it will be a game of turnovers, mistakes or someone coming up with the big play that will make the difference."

Regardless of the outcome, the two coaches share the opinion that it's great to be in their position.

"To be playing on Nov. 17 with a chance for a championship is exciting," Novak said. "I know it's exciting for Bill and his team also."

"It's fun that two programs like us can play for as much as we are Saturday."


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