With Northern Illinois facing third-and-3 in North Dakota's territory last Saturday, Huskies quarterback Chandler Harnish took the snap and rushed up the middle of the field.
Just as Harnish was reaching first-down yardage, he took a major hit and was knocked to the ground. Watching from the stands, his mother LeeAnn Harnish got caught up in the play.
"I was asking, ‘Did he get the first down?'" LeeAnn said. "I should have been worried if he was hurt. I told him that at breakfast the next morning, and he said, ‘That's okay, mom. You understand the game.'"
Everyone was ultimately thankful he escaped injury and was able to convert the first down. The past year has been a lot like that play for Harnish and his family. They've had their ups and downs, plus one miracle.
Their rollercoaster of a year began on the downside when Harnish suffered a knee injury against Toledo on Oct. 17, 2009. He missed the next three games. He came in as the backup quarterback against Ball State on Nov. 12, completed 9-of-9 passes in the win and was able to battle through knee discomfort the rest of the season as the starter.
Following Northern Illinois' loss to South Florida in the International Bowl, Harnish's right knee continued to bother him. Harnish started seeing more doctors, and surgery became the recommended route to fix what was seen as structural damage. He was told he would likely require nine months of rehab.
Harnish became resigned to that fate, and it affected his morale.
"The major obstacle I had to face was my mind," Harnish said. "I had to go through not necessarily depression, but I was pretty down for a while. It really put things in perspective. It made me realize this game of football can be taken away from me at any time."
Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill announced in early March that Harnish was going to have surgery and would miss the spring season.
But then, something inexplicable happened.
"I started feeling better during spring break," Harnish said. "During spring back, I went down to Mexico. I was running around playing beach volleyball and swimming. It felt great. Four weeks previous to that, I felt terrible."
Harnish returned home, and the surgery was put off. His knee was closely examined over the following weeks, and it only got better. He returned to the team for spring practice and has hadn't any problems with it since.
Harnish has only one explanation.
"In my eyes, it was a miracle," Harnish said. "I always grew up a man of faith, and my family has taught me a lot. It looked like I was done for the year. After putting my faith in God, we thought it was a miracle."
His family viewed it the same.
"We truly believe it's a miracle," LeeAnn said. "We believe that's what the Lord wanted in his life. We just prayed about it."
It wasn't the end of Harnish's adversity, though.
In his return, he wasn't handed back the starting job. He had to battle with DeMarcus Grady and Jordan Lynch throughout the spring and fall, and actually lost out to Grady for the season-opener.
After Grady struggled in the team's loss to Iowa State on Sept. 2, Harnish was made the starter against North Dakota.
"It was a difficult experience, I'll be honest," Harnish said. "It was tough for me to be the backup in the first week. I've always been in the position as the starter."
Harnish took full advantage of his opportunity in Week 2. He completed 14-of-25 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown and ran for 178 yards and one touchdown in the win.
It was his first real game action since his knee had recovered, and it passed with flying colors. All together, Harnish ran 21 times, was sacked once and took a few other hits, but he felt fine after the game and the next morning when he talked with his mom.
"I told my mom the other day, ‘It's just insane that I have no knee pain,'" Harnish said. "It's a miracle. I have no one to thank, but the man upstairs."