After Northern Illinois lost a conference title and its head coach, Tom Matukewicz's first objective was to make the Huskies' bowl trip fun.
He constantly cracked jokes. He made the coaches go one-on-one in practice. No matter what happened, Matukewicz was going to take a lighter approach.
"I had a lot to do with the fun part," Matukewicz said. "I wanted them to walk out and have a good time."
The reward? That came Saturday night when the Huskies closed out the best season in school history in resounding fashion.
Quarterback Chandler Harnish ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, and Northern Illinois made Matukewicz a winner in his only game in charge with a 40-17 victory over Fresno State in the Humanitarian Bowl.
Northern Illinois (11-3) earned a school-record 11th victory and ended an emotional two-week stretch that started with a loss to Miami, Ohio in the Mid-American Conference title game, then was compounded 48 hours later by the departure of head coach Jerry Kill for Minnesota.
The players uniformly credited Matukewicz for bringing stability and focus -- and a little fun -- at a time the Huskies needed it most. He started his postgame comments saying he was going to "milk this thing out" since he'll no longer be the guy in charge. He jokingly told Harnish he was getting an extra postgame meal after paying the coach a compliment.
Lighthearted worked for these Huskies. Any changes that might be coming when Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren is done game planning for the Rose Bowl and becomes the new head coach -- with Matukewicz staying on as linebackers coach -- were secondary.
That's why the Huskies chanted "Tuke! Tuke!" on the field and doused him with a water bucket in the final seconds, then celebrated on Boise's blue turf as snow started swirling.
"He meant everything to us," Harnish said after NIU won its first bowl game since 2004.
Harnish finished 17 of 26 for 300 yards passing and another 72 yards rushing.
Running back Chad Spann added 95 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 22 rushing TDs on the season and, for now, put him one ahead of Oregon's LaMichael James for most in the country.
Fresno State (8-5) continued its postseason track of playing up against BCS opponents, but struggling against those from non-automatic qualifying conferences. In its last 11 bowl appearances, the Bulldogs are 4-1 against BCS teams and 0-6 against the others.
>Heaps leads BYU
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Freshman Jake Heaps threw four touchdown passes, connecting with Cody Hoffman on three scores, and finished with 264 yards passing to help BYU beat overmatched Texas-El Paso, 52-24, on Saturday in the New Mexico Bowl.
It capped a big turnaround for the Cougars (7-6), whose 1-4 start included a rare loss to instate rival Utah State. The Cougars then won five of their last seven regular-season games to become bowl eligible.
It was the final contest for BYU before they begin play as an independent in football next season. The Miners finished 6-7.
>Around the nation
* The University of Maryland has informed Ralph Friedgen that his 10-year tenure as head football coach is over and has asked him to accept a buyout of his contract, two people familiar with the situation said. It is unclear if he would coach the Terps in the Military Bowl Dec. 29.
* David Nadeau's 32-yard field goal as time expired lifted Minnesota-Duluth to a 20-17 victory over Delta State in the Division II championship game in Florence, Ala.
* Levell Coppage ran for 299 yards and three touchdowns and Wisconsin-Whitewater forced five turnovers and shut out Mount Union in the second half to win its second consecutive NCAA Division III football national championship, 31-21, in Salem, Va.