MT. PLEASANT, Mich. — Central Michigan took a 17-0 lead early, expanded it to 21 points at 45-24 early in the fourth period and then held on to claim a 48-41 victory over Northern Illinois in an offensive shootout at Kelly/Shorts Stadium Saturday.
The Huskies’ loss in their Mid-American Conference opener dropped NIU’s record to 2-3 overall, 0-1 in the MAC, while Central Michigan improved to 2-3, 1-1.
“Obviously they made more plays than we did today,” said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. “I’m proud of our guys for fighting to the end. We gave up a lot of big plays on defense and we didn’t tackle well. We weren’t who we were supposed to be on either side of the ball. We were a two-quarter team today and that’s not good enough.”
Five of CMU’s six touchdowns came on plays of 35 yards or longer, including a 79-yard pass from Ryan Radcliff to Courtney Williams with 8:03 to play in the first quarter that gave the Chippewas an early 10-0 lead.
Radcliff also completed touchdown passes of 43 and 46 yards – both to Paris Cotton – who had over 100 yards both rushing and receiving in the game. His final touchdown pass of the game came on a 61-yard toss to David Blackburn with 10:42 left in the game and gave CMU a 45-24 lead.
At that point, Northern Illinois embarked on a furious comeback that included a pair of onside kick recoveries by NIU in the final minute which gave the Huskies the ball on their own 41-yard line with 17 seconds left.
Down 45-24 with 10:42 left to play in the final period, NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish, who posted a record-setting day of his own, drove the Huskies 80 yards in 14 plays and 4:23 to close the gap to 45-31. Tailback Jasmin Hopkins scored on a 10-yard reception, holding the ball over the pylon for the final three yards. Hopkins totaled 95 rushing yards on 19 carries on the day to lead NIU.
CMU recovered Tyler Wedel’s onside kick and drove 31 yards in six plays before David Harman kicked a 30-yard field goal to extend the Chips’ lead back to three scores at 48-31 with just 3:44 to play.
Harnish and crew went back to work from the NIU 20 and methodically drove to the Central Michigan one-yard line before Harnish snuck in for the score. On the drive, the Huskie quarterback was five-of-seven passing for 50 yards and rushed for 15 yards on three carries. Mat Sims’ PAT narrowed CMU’s lead to 48-38 with 47 seconds left in the game.
Wedel’s onside kick was recovered by Jhony Faustin at the NIU 48 and after two plays brought the Huskies to the CMU 21 yard line, Sims kicked his fourth field goal of the game – from 38 yards – and Northern Illinois trailed by seven points with 19 seconds on the clock.
Once again, the Huskies’ recovered Wedel’s onside attempt and took possession at the NIU 41-yard line. However, a pair of Harnish deep balls were batted down before Jahleel Addae picked off his final heave.
“We played well in the second and fourth quarters, and not well in the first and third,” Doeren said. “You can’t go on the road and play two quarters of football, you can’t give up the big plays we did. Anytime you have a big play, it’s a killer. We didn’t tackle well, we’ve got to finish. It was a three score game with six minutes left and we kept fighting and got a couple of onside kicks.”
Harnish continued his assault on the NIU career record books as he broke George Bork’s 48-year-old school mark for career passing yards with the top passing yardage game of his Huskie career.
Harnish threw for 370 yards on 27-of-50 passing and now has 6,959 career yards, surpassing Bork’s career mark of 6,782 yards. Harnish also broke Marshall Taylor’s career record for total offense plays with 68 on Saturday to bring his career total to 1,274. Taylor had 1,247 plays from 1985-88.
NIU ran 95 offensive plays in the game and totaled 587 yards.
Harnish’s 462 yards of total offense on 370 passing and 92 rushing yards, are the second-highest total in school history behind Phil Horvath’s 477 yards versus Akron on Sept. 24, 2005. He added three touchdowns – one rushing and two passing – to his season total and has six rushing and 11 passing scores on the season.
Versus Central Michigan, Northern Illinois fell behind 17-0 early as an early Harnish interception set up a CMU field goal, while the Chippewas’ first score came on their first play of its second possession and stunned the Huskies. NIU rebounded in the second quarter when Harnish hit Martel Moore on a 55-yard touchdown pass play to open the period, and Sims hit his first field goal of the day to cap a 10-play, 62-yard drive with 9:48 left in the half.
Sims hit two more field goals in the third period as he connected from 35 and 33 yards, but with CMU scoring a pair of TDs in the period, the Huskies fell further behind and could not recover.
“In the third quarter, we answered their touchdowns with field goals and you can’t do that when you’re not stopping people,” Doeren said. “We need to do our homework, take inventory and concentrate on us.”
“The story of the game is we didn’t score touchdowns in the red zone,” Harnish said. “We need to grow up as a team. We’ll come back, watch film and get better.”
Northern Illinois returns to Huskie Stadium next Saturday in the first of two straight MAC home games. NIU takes on Kent State Saturday at 2:30 p.m.