Northern Illinois won its seventh straight game and put itself in position to make its first trip to the Mid-American Conference Championship game since 2005 with a 65-30 victory over Toledo Tuesday on Senior Night at Huskie Stadium. NIU won its ninth straight game at home stretching back to last season.
The Huskie offense put up 584 yards, including 422 on the ground. Quarterback Chandler Harnish led the Huskie attack as he totaled 162 passing and 149 rushing yards, throwing for one touchdown and rushing for another.
“We had some big plays, we’ve got some speed and the kids performed well,” said NIU Head Coach Jerry Kill. “Games are won by players, not coaches. We’ve got some pretty good players and they’re playing well.”
The Huskies improved to 8-2 on the year, with a 6-0 record in Mid-American Conference play. NIU can secure its first MAC West Championship since 2005 by beating either Ball State or Eastern Michigan on the road over the next two weeks.
Northern Illinois sprinted out to a 28-0 lead in the first half as Chad Spann, Akeem Daniels, and Harnish all rushed for touchdowns. Harnish also connected with Nathan Palmer for a 33-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. The Huskies totaled 295 yards of first half offense, including 175 yards on the ground on 31 carries.
The Rockets, who fell to 6-4 overall and 5-1 in the MAC, scored the first nine points of the second half. Toledo punted after a three-and-out to start the third, burying NIU its own four-yard line. Toledo’s Alex Johnson sacked Harnish in the endzone three plays later to get the Rockets on the board. On the ensuing drive, the Rockets went 74 yards in six plays, and scored on an 18-yard rush by Adonis Thomas to close the gap to 28-9.
NIU answered with an 80-yard drive, capped by a five-yard Spann touchdown, one of three for the senior on the day. Thomas responded for the Rockets with a 60-yard burst. The score brought Toledo within 19 points with 7:18 left in the third, but that was as close as they would get.
Northern Illinois put back-to-back touchdowns on the board to put the game out of reach. The first came on a 50-yard run by Daniels, a true freshman from Kissimmee, Fla. After breaking away from the pack on an end-around, Daniels had one man to beat and stopped on a dime to juke safety Diauntae Morrow before continuing to the endzone for his second score of the day.
On Toledo’s next drive, Rashaan Melvin intercepted Terrance Owens, giving the Huskies the ball on their own 45. Harnish threw a 35-yard pass to Perez Ashford on the next play. Three plays later Spann found the endzone for the third time on the day with an eight-yard dash to put NIU up 49-16.
The Huskies would have two more big plays for scores: an 83-yard Tommy Davis kick-off return and a 55-yard sprint by Jasmin Hopkins. Northern Illinois scored four touchdowns of 50 yards or more, and the nine touchdowns were the third-most in a game in Huskie history.
Individually, Spann’s three touchdowns tied a career high. He has totaled 15 touchdowns for the season and 42 in his career, third-most in Northern Illinois history.
Harnish had a 69-yard rush in the in third quarter, the longest of his career, as he gained 149 yards on 13 carries. The junior also completed 11-of-16 passes for 162 yards to mark the third time this season that he has rushed and passed for 100 yards in the same game.
Prior to the game, NIU honored 21 seniors prior to the final home game of their careers. Former Huskie Garrett Wolfe received a standing ovation from the crowd of 18,472 when he was introduced as the “Huskie Legend.”
by Donna Turner