Northern Illinois set for Quick Lane Bowl in home away from home

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Northern Illinois freshman quarterback Marcus Childers has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for five. | Gregory Bull/AP

DETROIT — Northern Illinois might feel at home Tuesday at Ford Field, site of the Quick Lane Bowl between the Huskies and Duke. While NIU has never played in a bowl game at the stadium, it has taken part in seven Mid-American Conference championship games there, including six in a row from 2010 to 2015.

The Huskies’ record is 3-4, but they still will have the advantage of a familiar stadium and a shorter drive. Their fans will be traveling 350 miles as opposed to Duke’s trekking 650.

“We’re excited to be back in Detroit because we have so much history here, and now we get a chance to play in the bowl game,” NIU coach Rod Carey said.

The 2017 season was a rebound year for Northern Illinois. The Huskies went to eight consecutive bowl games, including a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2012, but a 1-6 start in 2016 ended that run.

“We had probably taken it for granted after all those years in a row,” Carey said. “When we missed out last year, it put things into perspective really quickly, so we’re grateful and excited to be back.”

Duke also bounced back for a bowl berth, but the Blue Devils’ recovery came in the same season as their demise.

The year began brilliantly, with Duke winning its first four games, a stretch that included victories over Northwestern, Baylor and North Carolina.

“We were 4-0, and we were playing Miami on a Friday night on national television,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “We really played pretty well for a part of that game, and then it just slipped.”

The Devils lost 31-6, the first of six consecutive losses. Suddenly, a year after a 4-8 season that ended their bowl streak at four years, Duke was 4-6 and looking at another holiday season at home.

“I told them that resilient people find a way to be successful,” Cutcliffe said. “I didn’t know the day or the hour, but if we kept working, we would find a way out of this.”

The Devils finished the regular season with wins over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to go 6-6, barely qualifying for a bowl.

“We had a grave digger above us with one last shovel load of dirt,” Cutcliffe said. “Somehow, we knocked that shovel out of his hand to get this opportunity.”

The game will match two underclassman quarterbacks — Duke sophomore Daniel Jones and NIU freshman Marcus Childers.

Jones tore apart Northwestern in September, throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns while running for 108 yards and two more scores. But he struggled badly in the loss to Miami and didn’t get back on track until the end of the season.

Childers started the season as the third-string quarterback, but Ryan Graham got hurt in Week 1 and Daniel Santacaterina couldn’t keep the job. Childers went 6-2, throwing for 15 touchdowns and running for five more.

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