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One of the main slogans throughout the history of the Tailgreeter Cure Bowl held in Orlando, Florida since 2015 is that it is “more than just a game”.
And while the event has done its part to earn that title over the years to raise millions of dollars toward cancer research, the game itself featuring the Sun Belt Conference’s Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (10-2) and the Mid-American Conference Champion Northern Illinois Huskies (9-4) has plenty to boast.
Last year’s Cure Bowl featured two nationally ranked teams with the Liberty Flames narrowly defeating Coastal Carolina in the first overtime result in the game’s history. This was the Chanticleers first and only loss in 2020. Head coach Jamey Chadwell and company return to highlight what should be an exciting match up at Exploria Stadium.
After stating that his team was the best in the program’s history leading up to the Cure Bowl press conferences last year, coach Chadwell’s 2021 squad was just three points away from beating the eventual-conference runner-up Appalachian State Mountaineers. This costed them a chance at the Sun Belt Championship game against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Combined with the two-point loss to Georgia State, it is suddenly apparent how close Coastal Carolina was to repeating that level of success.
Chadwell credited his players and program in achieving this continuity.
“It talks about the young men and the belief they have in each other and the character they have any time that you can play at a high level consistently — especially this year,” stated Chadwell. “Last year, you were the darling and you ‘snuck up on people. This year, that didn’t happen. We had to take everybody’s best shot and that’s a different challenge.”
Instead, they’ll have to settle for a chance to get a shot at redemption from last year. Players like sophomore quarterback Grayson McCall, who has 2,558 yards passing and fifth-year senior linebacker Silas Kelly who led his team with 95 tackles, are eager for the opportunity.
With all the being said, that doesn’t mean that the Huskies are looking to tuck tail and run. In fact, running is what the offense is set to do under head coach Thomas Hammock.
When Hammock arrived in 2019, the team went 5-7 and then 0-6 during the pandemic in 2020. In 2021 however, the Huskies secured the MAC Championship in a manner that seems to fit a “turnaround” theme, winning a rematch against the Kent State Golden Flashes who had beaten them earlier in the year.
Coach Hammock believed that set the tone for his team’s journey to the MAC Championship.
“I remember when we played our last game [in 2020] against Eastern Michigan. You start to evaluate the season. Obviously, we went 0-6, so on that bus ride home, the only thing I could think about was how hard it is to get over the hump,” stated Hammock.
Hammock mentioned that the pressure had him pondering about being 0-7 and beyond going into the 2021 season until he had an epiphany.
“You start looking at the first part of the  schedule, how do we break the cycle? In my mind, I said, screw it’ why don’t we take a reverse perspective and tell our guys that we are the best time in the MAC until proven otherwise,” said Hammock.
Redshirt freshman running back Jevyon Ducker, who’s rushed for 1,019 yards on the season, is the top threat on offense. He’s augmented by Michigan State transfer junior quarterback, Rocky Lombardi, who has passed for 2,416 yards. This balanced attack could help control the possession of the ball and the pace of the game.
Combine that with the defense who features a very versatile freshman C.J. Brown at the safety position who’s their leading tackler. Not only does Brown have 103 tackles, but he also has 3.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a sack to his credit as well.
These two teams will fight in what looks to be an exhilarating contest that will embody the spirit of the Cure Bowl and show cancer patients that together “we can tackle this.”