Junior running back Leighton Settle (Madison, Wis./Madison West/Fresno City CC) scored three touchdowns while rushing for 152 yards on 23 carries to lead Northern Illinois to a 55-24 victory on Saturday afternoon at Huskie Stadium.
Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel) gained 144 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown and went 14-of-32 through the air for 215 yards and another score.
As a team, the Huskies gained 407 yards on 55 carries. The victory was NIU’s 18th-straight at Huskie Stadium and was the first time the Huskies have scored 50-or-more points since defeating Toledo, 63-60, on Nov. 1, 2011. NIU improved to 4-1 overall and won its first Mid-American Conference game of the season. Central Michigan is 2-2, 0-1.
“When you run for 400 yards, I don’t know how you can’t be happy,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. “We’re protecting our quarterback; he’s not getting hit a lot in the pass game. I think coach (Rod) Carey does a phenomenal job just mixing up things with the launch point, different protections and making it tough defensively. (Opponents) can’t blitz a lot with the run game we have. We’re ahead of where I thought we’d be at this point.
“It’s funny – we were up by 10 at half, and everyone in the locker room was mad. We felt like we hadn’t played our best yet. We have a group of guys that don’t want to underachieve. They want to play at their utmost best all the time. We left a few plays out there in the first half and we knew it.”
Northern Illinois led by 10 at halftime, but Central Michigan trimmed the lead to just three, 24-21, on the first play of the second half. Following an illegal block penalty that pushed CMU back to its own eight-yard line to begin the drive, Ryan Radcliff connected with Titus Davis on a 92-yard pass to bring the Chippewas within three.
Radcliffe finished the afternoon 20-of-39 passing for 332 yards and two touchdowns.
The Huskies answered with a 20-yard field goal from junior Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo./Hannibal) on the next drive and never looked back, outscoring the Chippewas 31-3 in the final 26 minutes of the contest.
Following the Sims field goal, Central Michigan marched down to the NIU 16-yard line before a Radcliff pass was intercepted by senior defensive end Sean Progar (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South), who claimed his first career INT.
The Huskies converted the turnover into points as Lynch pushed the lead to 13, 34-21, with a nine-yard touchdown run, capping a nine-play, 61-yard drive with 4:29 to play in the third quarter.
Central Michigan clawed back within 10 with a 42-yard David Harman field goal with 1:02 left in the third.
Both teams punted on their first drives of the fourth quarter and, on its second drive of the quarter, the Huskies drove to the Central Michigan seven before back-to-back incomplete passes set up a fourth and six. Lined up for a 20-yard field goal, the Huskies caught the Chippewas by surprise as senior punter Ryan Neir (Roscoe, Ill./Hononegah) flipped the ball over his shoulder to Sims on a fake. Sims got the corner and found the end zone, giving NIU a 41-24 lead with 11:28 to play in the fourth quarter.
After Harman missed a 41-yard field goal, Settle scored for the third time on the afternoon with a 46-yard rush with 3:43 remaining, putting the Huskies up 48-24.
Freshman running back Keith Harris Jr. (Chicago, Ill./Leo) closed the scoring with a four-yard touchdown carry. Harris gained 53 yards on the first play of the drive before being caught from behind at the Chippewa nine. A Central Michigan offside penalty moved the Huskies five yards closer and Harris finished the drive with his four-yard scoring run.
Harris rushed for 67 yards on six carries.
NIU took a 14-0 lead early in the contest as Settle opened the scoring with an 11-yard touchdown run and Lynch connected with senior wide receiver Martel Moore (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren) for a 14-yard touchdown.
Central Michigan cut the NIU lead in half with 1:19 to play in the first quarter. Zurlon Tipton caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Radcliff to trim the Huskie lead to 14-7.
Tipton caught three passes for 41 yards while also rushing for a team-best 66 yards on 15 carries.
Northern Illinois answered with an 11-play, 41-yard drive, capped by a Sims 43-yard field goal to give the Huskies a 17-7 lead.
Following a three and out by CMU, Settle scored his second touchdown of the day on a six-yard run. The score was set-up by a 43-yard pass from Lynch to sophomore tight end Luke Eakes (St. Mary’s, Kan./St. Mary’s).
Three minutes before the break, Tipton capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown, bringing the Chippewas within 10, 24-14, heading into the half.
Northern Illinois goes on the road for three of its next four games, beginning with a MAC West battle versus Ball State next Saturday in Muncie. The game kicks off at 2 p.m. (CT) and will air on ESPN3.