Kansas’ D.J. Brashears caught a six-yard pass from Jordan Webb and nudged across the goal line just in front of two Northern Illinois defenders to give the Jayhawks a 45-42 victory over the Huskies Saturday night in front of 48,084 fans at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas.
Brashears’ score came with just nine seconds on the clock and closed out an 11-play, 47-yard drive to give KU the home victory and a 2-0 record on the season. NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish’s final pass was knocked down at the Kansas 20-yard line as time expired.
“They made one more play than we did tonight,” said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. “[On the last play] We had a blitz called and they did a nice job picking it up. It was a good throw, a good catch and a good play by them. Our defense didn’t get off the field on third down tonight and we didn’t tackle well.”
Northern Illinois dropped to 1-1 on the year despite an outstanding performance by the Huskie offense, led by quarterback Harnish. One week after accounting for six touchdowns in NIU’s win over Army, Harnish threw for two scores and ran for a career-best three versus Kansas. He completed 27-of-33 passes for 315 yards and ran for 89 yards on 11 carries to total 404 yards of total offense, the sixth-highest single game total in NIU history. His favorite target was senior receiver Nathan Palmer, who caught a career best nine balls for 86 yards.
“[Chandler] played unbelievable and the offensive line did a good job of protecting him,” Doeren said. “We had some receivers make some unbelievable catches tonight, too.”
The combination of Harnish and senior tailback Jasmin Hopkins (47 yards on 13 carries) had given the Huskies a 42-38 lead with 5:03 left in the game as Hopkins scored on a one-yard run to complete an 11-play, 85-yard drive.
A 51-yard kickoff return by Brashears put KU into Huskie territory to start its final drive. Kansas converted twice on fourth down on the drive, including on the final play for the score.
Kansas finished the game with 32 first downs and 534 yards of total offense on 90 plays, while the Huskies gained 462 yards on 62 snaps to average 7.5 yards per play. Kansas converted 13-of-18 third downs and twice converted on fourth down in the game.
After Kansas went ahead on the first touchdown connection of the day between Brashears and Webb with 7:51 in the first quarter, Northern Illinois earned the next three scores to go up 21-7 with 8:39 remaining in the second period. Harnish scored on runs of seven and 12 yards, then hit Martel Moore to account for NIU’s first three scores.
Kansas closed the gap to 21-14 with a 12-play, 74-yard drive that consumed 4:21 with Darrian Miller scoring on an 18-yard rush to pull the Jayhawks within one touchdown at 21-14.
Harnish drove the Huskies downfield to the Kansas 30 and then appeared to hit Moore for a 28-yard completion to the two on fourth-and-six. But the call was reviewed by instant replay and overturned, giving KU the ball.
Webb, who finished the game 21-of-30 for 281 yards and three TDs, engineered a perfect two-minute drill and found a wide open Kale Pick for a 36-yard scoring strike with 17 seconds left in the half to tie the game at 21 at halftime.
Harnish scored on a 26-yard run on the first drive of the second half to give Northern Illinois the lead again, but Kansas controlled the ball for most of the rest of the third period and took a 35-28 lead with 2:55 on the clock. Redshirt freshman Da’Ron Brown scored his first career touchdown on a 10-yard strike from Harnish to close out the third quarter scoring and tie the game at 35.
The Huskie defense stopped KU at the five-yard line, forcing the Jayhawks to settle for a field goal and a 38-35 lead with 8:50 left in the game, setting up the exciting final drives.
Following the game, Doeren said NIU would learn from the setback.
“One play, one game won’t define our season,” he said. “We’ll go back and regroup. We’ve got to get better as a football team. Our guys played hard, defensively, we just didn’t play well enough at times. We had a ton of missed tackles and we didn’t make enough plays. Our offense did what they needed to do. All of our goals are still intact.”
Northern Illinois next takes on No. 9 ranked Wisconsin at Soldier Field next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets for Soldier Field Showdown II are available at all Ticketmaster outlets.