On its final possession of the contest, a 56-yard field goal came up short for Kent State as NIU claimed a 17-14 victory over the Golden Flashes in the Mid-American Conference opener on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
The win extends NIU’s Huskie Stadium winning streak to 28 games and its regular season MAC winning streak to 24 contests.
With the Huskie offense unable to find a consistent rhythm during the game, the NIU defense stepped up. Kent State managed just a pair of field goals through the first 53 minutes of the game before scoring its lone touchdown of the game with 7:15 to play. The two-point conversion pulled the Golden Flashes within three of NIU, 17-14.
After sophomore quarterback Anthony Maddie (Plainfield, Ill./Aurora Christian/Western Michigan) was intercepted, giving Kent State the ball back at its own 39 with 6:01 to play, the Golden Flashes moved to the NIU 34 as Colin Reardon picked up a key first down with an 8-yard carry on a fourth-and-one. The Kent State signal caller was injured on the play however and the NIU defense was able to take advantage.
On the next play, junior defensive end Perez Ford (Romeoville, Ill./Romeoville) and redshirt junior linebacker Rasheen Lemon (Chicago, Ill./Proviso West) sacked back-up Nathan Strock for a five yard loss. Two incomplete passes then brought up fourth down for the Golden Flashes.
After initially lining up to go for it, Kent State called a timeout and tried a 56-yard field goal, but the kick came up short and the Huskies were able to run out the clock.
“The defense played great,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey. “It was so good to see our defense go ahead and finish the game like that. It was a good, hard-fought victory. In conference play, every game is a battle and we made enough plays to win. The defense stood tall and we’re 1-0 in the conference. We’ll enjoy it because you always enjoy a win.”
NIU held Kent State to 83 yards rushing and KSU converted just three of 16 first downs in the game. Huskie defenders combined for eight tackles for loss, and recorded a sack and two hurries on KSU’s final drive, forcing Kent State to go to its third string quarterback after both starter Reardon and back-up Nathan Strock went down with injuries.
Following a scoreless first quarter, Maddie came in at quarterback for NIU and brought a spark. NIU marched 80 yards in nine plays, using less than three minutes to open the scoring. Maddie connected with receiver Da’Ron Brown (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park) for 37 yards on a third down to keep the drive alive. Back-to-back personal foul penalties on the Golden Flashes gave NIU a first-and-goal and Brown found the end zone on a wide receiver sweep to give the Huskies the lead.
Kent State answered on the next possession with a field goal to cut the Huskie advantage to 7-3. The Golden Flashes marched down to the NIU one-yard line where senior linebacker Jamaal Bass (Miramar, Fla./Miramar) stuffed Kent State running back Nick Holley for no gain on third-and-goal. Kent State settled for a 19-yard field goal from Anthony Melchiori and the Huskies took a four-point advantage into the intermission.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Huff (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal) took the opening kickoff of the second half 66 yards to the Kent State 30, setting up a 40-yard field goal for senior Tyler Wedel (McFarland,Wis./McFarland) as the Huskies took a 10-3 lead.
A three-and-out by Kent State on its first possession of the second half gave the ball back to NIU and the Huskies needed just five plays and 1:37 to find the end zone. Maddie connected with junior Juwan Brescacin (Mississauga, Ontario, Canada/Culver Academy) for 49 yards to the Kent State 27. Three plays later, Huff finished off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run around the right side as NIU pushed its lead to 17-3.
The touchdown was the first for Huff in his NIU career. Brescacin finished with a game-high 116 yards receiving on just three catches. Maddie finished the contest 7-of-10 through the air for 105 yards. Redshirt sophomore Drew Hare (O’Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West) went 8-of-15 for 93 yards. Maddie led the Huskies with 48 yards rushing on eight carries.
“We didn’t play well offensively at all,” Carey said. “We played good enough to win. In the second half, Anthony came in and did a good job (at quarterback) and the two TDs we had tonight came with him under center. ”
The Huskies and Golden Flashes traded punts before Kent State added a field goal to cut the NIU lead to 17-6. The Golden Flashes reached the NIU 10-yard line but three-straight incomplete passes forced Kent State to settle for a field goal with 1:53 to play in the third quarter.
Kent State cut the NIU lead to just three with 7:15 to play in the fourth. A 20-yard carry by James Brooks, followed by a 30-yard pass from Reardon to Kris White, helped move the Golden Flashes into Huskie territory. Four plays later Reardon scored from two yards out to bring Kent State within five. Reardon connected with Casey Pierce on the two-point conversion as the Golden Flashes trimmed the Huskie lead to 17-14.
NIU will return to Huskie Stadium next Saturday, Oct. 11, as Central Michigan visits DeKalb. The Homecoming contest against the Chippewas is scheduled for 4 p.m.