The Northern Illinois football team rattled off 30-straight points to earn a 33-7 win over Central Michigan and become bowl eligible for the third straight year, Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
Northern Illinois won its fifth consecutive game, and improved to 6-2 overall, its best start since 2004. The Huskies sit atop the Mid-American Conference West Division with an unblemished 4-0 league record. NIU also defeated Central Michigan, the defending MAC champions, for the first time since 2006.
The NIU rushing attack dominated the game, allowing the Huskies to hold the ball for 36:04. Senior tailback Chad Spann ran for three scores and added the fifth 100-yard performance of this season with 101 yards on 23 carries. Cameron Bell had the best game of his career, gaining 82 yards on 12 rushes, including a 30-yard romp in the third quarter that saw Bell run through several CMU defenders.
“The great thing about our players is we have four really talented running backs,” NIU head coach Jerry Kill said. “They all have their role.”
Quarterback Chandler Harnish also got in on the rushing attack, totaling 69 yards on 11 carries. Harnish continued to be one of the most efficient passers in the country, connecting on 12-of-19 attempts for 138 yards. Landon Cox proved to be Harnish’s favorite target on the day, collecting four catches for 34 yards.
The Huskie defense held Central Michigan to only one score, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Radcliff to Kito Poblah early in the second quarter and shut out its opponent in the second half for the third straight game. The score gave the Chippewas a 7-3 lead, but NIU answered with two field goals by Mike Cklamovski to hold a 9-7 advantage at halftime. Cklamovski made four-of-six field goal attempts on the day.
Northern Illinois’ defense earned five takeaways, held CMU to just 85 yards on the ground, and allowed only 296 yards to the Chips overall. Sophomore linebacker Tyrone Clark had two of the five takeaways, intercepting Radcliff on back-to-back CMU possessions in the second quarter. The first interception came after Sean Progar deflected a screen pass into the air which Clark recovered. Clark then halted the Chippewas’ next drive by deflecting a pass over the middle to himself for his second INT. Prior to the play, CMU had driven from its own 24 to Northern Illinois’ 26-yard line.
Spann and the Huskie offense did most of its damage during a 10:07 period covering the third and early fourth quarters. Spann scored all three of his touchdowns in that time frame, extending NIU’s two-point halftime advantage to a 30-7 lead. Spann ran for scores of 13, 12 and two yards, bringing his touchdown total for the season to 11. Kill credited hard work in the off-season and good conditioning for his team’s late burst.
“It’s all that preparation that you talk about all season, about how you have to win the fourth quarter and how you have to be able to play for four quarters,” Kill said.
The Huskies became just the second team in the MAC to get to six wins and bowl eligibility. Temple, which Northern Illinois beat 31-17 two weeks ago, did so earlier in the day. NIU has now been bowl eligible in all three of Kill’s seasons at the helm.
The CMU game concluded a three-game homestand for the Huskies, and NIU is now 4-0 at home.
“It’s important for you to win at home,” Kill said. “We’ve been able to do that and I’m proud of the kids’ preparation and the way they work.”
NIU continues its path through the MAC West at Western Michigan, Saturday, Oct. 30, before returning home for a Tuesday night ESPN2 match-up with Toledo, Nov. 9.