The NIU Huskies won in convincing fashion at midnight Monday at the GoDaddy.com Bowl, beating the Red Wolves of Arkansas State University 38-20.
For first-year head coach Dave Doeren, quarterback Chandler Harnish and Co., the win in Mobile, Ala., secured the third jewel in this season’s triple crown: MAC West bragging rights, the first Mid-American Conference championship since 1983 and, finally, a bowl victory.
After falling behind 13-0 quickly in the first quarter, the Huskies roared back, scoring 31 unanswered points and never looking back en route to the team’s ninth straight victory.
Harnish hit Perez Ashford on a 9-yard touchdown pass two plays after a disputed spot on fourth down kept the drive alive, pulling the Huskies to 13-7 just before the end of the first quarter.
The Huskies briefly lost Harnish to an injured left ankle early in the second quarter, but backup Jordan Lynch engineered a seven-play, 78-yard drive that ended on his 3-yard touchdown run to give NIU a 14-13 lead with 4:49 left in the first half.
The Huskies added another touchdown just before the half when Doeren gambled on the final play of the drive, going for the touchdown with 2 seconds remaining instead of opting for a field goal.
Jamal Womble plowed forward for a 1-yard touchdown to give Northern Illinois a 21-13 halftime lead.
Harnish, the game’s most valuable player, completed 18 of 36 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his final college game. His main target was Martel Moore, whose 224 yards receiving were the third-most in school history for a single game.
NIU added a touchdown with 13:30 left in the third quarter when Harnish connected with Moore for a 43-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 28-13. A 22-yard Mathew Sims field goal to start the fourth quarter made it 31-13 before ASU answered with a Ryan Aplin touchdown pass to make it 31-20 with 11:12 left in the game.
But Dechane Durante – the bowl’s defensive MVP – stepped in front of another Aplin pass three minutes later and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown to seal the Huskies’ victory.
“Our kids never quit,” Doeren said. “That was a great team we played tonight. Martel Moore played a great game.”
The midnight win guaranteed the senior class a place in history as the winningest class of all time. It also pushed the Mid-American Conference’s bowl record to 4-1 this postseason.