After spotting the Eastern Illinois University Panthers 20 points to start the first quarter, the Northern Illinois University Huskies answered with 30 straight points en-route to a 43-39 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 23,595 in the home opener Saturday night at Huskie Stadium.
Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 450 yards and six touchdowns to tie Tony Romo for the school’s career TD record. He completed 34 of 49 passes as the Panthers tallied 577 yards on offense, but NIU outgained Eastern with 607 yards. Senior quarterback Jordan Lynch threw for 235 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 189 yards, and redshirt junior running back Cameron Stingily rushed for a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries to counter Garappolo’s effort.
“It’s a win, [but] we’ve got a lot of improvement to do,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “It was a lot like the Idaho game [last week]. I didn’t think we came out quite ready, but this team responds.”
Eastern Illinois tied the score at 33 to start the fourth quarter, and the Huskies responded with a 37 yard field goal by Mathew Sims to give NIU a 36-33 lead with 11:24 left in the game.
The Panthers took a late lead with just under 10 minutes left in the game when Garoppolo found Erik Lora in the back of the end zone for 10-yard touchdown and a three-point lead.
Stingily set up the Huskies’ game winning touchdown when he came untracked for a 46-yard gain inside the EIU 10. Keith Harris Jr. scored his second touchdown of the day from eight yards out to give NIU a 43-39 lead with 8:25 to play before the Huskie defense stiffened up, and NIU ran out the final 5:01 on the clock.
“I was pleased with how we ended the game,” Carey said. “We got the ball with five minutes left, handed the ball off and got first downs.”
The win extended NIU’s best-in-the-nation home winning streak to 22 games as the Huskies advanced to 3-0 on the season. The loss was the first of the year for EIU, which came into the game ranked No. 8 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).