The Northern Illinois defense allowed just 70 yards and recorded seven sacks as the Huskies defeated Kent State, 40-10, in a Mid-American Conference match-up Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
NIU senior quarterback Chandler Harnish was 12-of-15 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 65 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown, and Huskie kicker Mathew Sims hit four field goals to lead the NIU offense, but it was defense that carried the day for Northern Illinois.
“I think football generally starts with your fronts,” NIU head coach Dave Doeren said. “Your offensive line and defensive line are the tone setters for both sides of the football. Today our defensive line took charge, and that’s what they have to do. We talked a lot about playing for each other, for our family, and protecting our house today – and we did that. You can’t do that if you don’t play well on both sides of the football with your linemen.”
Northern Illinois won its 12th straight game at Huskie Stadium to improve to 3-3 on the season, 1-1 in the MAC, while Kent State fell to 1-5, 0-2.
The Huskie defense opened the scoring just four minutes into the game when junior defensive lineman Nabal Jefferson intercepted a Kent State screen pass and went 25 yards to give NIU an early 7-0 advantage.
Jefferson’s interception was the first of three turnovers created by the NIU defense on the day.
After the two teams traded punts, Kent State closed the scoring in the opening quarter with a 24-yard field goal by Freddy Cortez to trim the NIU lead to 7-3.
Kent State’s second turnover of the game gave NIU excellent field position, helping the Huskies increase their lead. Senior defensive end Kyle Jenkins recovered a fumble on the Kent State seven and, three plays later, Harnish connected with junior Martel Moore from three yards out to increase the Huskies’ lead to 14-3 with 13:28 left in the second quarter.
Moore finished the contest with a game-high four receptions for 35 yards; he was one of nine Huskies with a reception in the contest.
NIU scored on each of its three remaining possessions of the first half to build a 27-3 halftime advantage.
Harnish scored a rushing touchdown from 26 yards out, capping a five-play, 53-yard drive for the quick strike Huskie offense. Sophomore kicker Mathew Sims connected on a 31-yard field goal and a 32-yard effort on the final play of the first half as NIU took a 24-point lead into the half.
Kent State had just 29 yards of total offense and did not complete a pass in the first half.
“I thought our pass rush today, for the most part, was really good,” Doeren said. “They covered up for some things in coverage; there was a few times guys got open and the defensive front took care of that (with their rush).”
Sims added two more field goals in the third quarter as the Huskies increased their lead to 33-3. The Hannibal, Mo., native split the uprights from 44 yards with 10:08 to play in the third quarter and from 34 yards with 4:03 remaining in the quarter.
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jordan Lynch scored on an eight-yard run five minutes into the fourth quarter as NIU hit the 40-point mark for the fifth time this season. Lynch’s score capped a 12-play, 88-yard drive on which the Chicago native had seven carries for 36 yards.
Kent State scored its lone touchdown of the day with 2:40 remaining when Luke Wollet recovered an NIU fumble and returned it 36 yards for a score to create the game’s final 30-point margin.
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Ron Newcomb finished the afternoon with a team-high eight tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Redshirt junior defensive end Sean Progar added 2.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks. Overall, the NIU defense totaled seven sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
The Huskies return to action Saturday, Oct. 15, at Huskie Stadium as they host Western Michigan on Homecoming.