Behind Thomas Rawls’ 270 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Central Michigan knocked off the NIU football team 34-17 Saturday at Huskie Stadium in a Mid-American Conference West Division match-up.
The win by CMU (4-3, 2-1 MAC) snaps the Huskies’ (4-2, 1-1 MAC) 28-game winning streak at Huskie Stadium, while also ending NIU’s 24-game regular season winning streak against Mid-American Conference opponents.
“We’re very, very disappointed in the final result,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey.
“I give credit to Central Michigan. They came in here and really executed well in all three phases and made the plays that were crucial to the game. Our execution wasn’t good enough. We will move forward. I believe in these guys 100 percent. They played all the way to the end of the game, and this team’s resolve is going to be steady and we’re going to continue to work and get better.”
The Huskies opened the game with a five-play, 71-yard drive that culminated with a 20-yard strike from quarterback Drew Hare (O’Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West) to junior receiver Juwan Brescacin (Mississauga, Ontario/Culver Academy[Ind.]). CMU countered with a 10-play, 86-yard response that ended with Rawls finding the endzone from five yards out to knot the game at 7-7.
Taking advantage of the Chippewas’ ensuing kickoff landing out of bounds, NIU quickly moved back into CMU territory, but the Huskie drive stalled at the CMU 42. After the NIU punt, the Chippewas took advantage with another extended drive, moving out of the shadow of their own endzone courtesy of a 39-yard pass from quarterback Cooper Rush to Jesse Kroll. Another 18-yard completion put the CMU offense at the NIU 13, where Rawls rumbled for a 13-yard touchdown to give the visitors a lead they would never relinquish at 14-7.
On NIU’s next drive, a bad snap pushed the Huskies into a third-and-27 situation and an eventual three-and-out. Taking over at its own 42, CMU got into NIU territory, but Paris Logan’s (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge) pass breakup on third down halted the Chippewas. NIU was unable to take advantage of the stop and – despite two first downs – were forced to punt.
The CMU offense again found its rhythm, as completions of 10, 16, 15 and 16 yards set up the Chippewas at the NIU 16. Following a five-yard gain from Rawls, Rush found Jesse Kroll on a six-yard touchdown to put the Huskies in a 14-point hole entering the half.
Rawls jumpstarted the Chippewa offense out of the intermission with a 22-yard run. Two long completions from Rush to Titus Davis – the second one an acrobatic catch for 29 yards – helped put CMU at the NIU 15. Two Rawls runs set up a third-and-three at the NIU 8, but Logan again came through with a breakup, forcing CMU to settle for a 25-yard field goal from Brian Eavey and a 24-7 lead.
Logan, who had single coverage on CMU’s leading receiver most of the night, held Davis to four catches for 54 yards, 52 yards below his season average. The junior cornerback made seven tackles and broke up two passes.
NIU’s hurry-up attack on the ensuing drive seemed to get the Huskie offense in gear, as Hare’s 20-yard strike to Brescacin put NIU in business near midfield. However, a Cameron Stingily (Romeoville, Ill./Romeoville) rush on fourth-and three from the CMU 49 went for naught when the CMU defense snuffed out the run and got the ball back at the NIU 48.
Three plays later, though, Michael Santacaterina (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) stepped in front of a Rush pass and raced down the sidelines before getting pushed out at the CMU 25. A 10-yard Stingily run coupled with a personal foul on CMU set up the Huskies at the Chippewa 8, but two incompletions and a one-yard rush forced Tyler Wedel (McFarland, Wis./McFarland) to come on for a 24-yard chip shot.
Undeterred, CMU came back with an eight-play, 80-yard drive capped when Rush threw a dart to Ben McCord for a 13-yard touchdown. The drive, though, was all about Rawls, who started things with rushes for nine, three and 12 yards. Following an incompletion, Rawls ran for 27 yards to the NIU 29, which moved to the NIU 14 courtesy of a facemask penalty against the Huskies.
Three plays later, Rush found McCord in the endzone to put CMU up by 21.
Needing to stage a comeback, Hare lofted a pass deep downfield to Da’Ron Brown (Chicago Ill./Morgan Park), who leaped and came down with a 49-yard reception to put NIU in business in CMU territory. Two plays later, Hare hit Brescacin in the endzone from 14 yards out, getting NIU within 31-17.
From there, though, Rawls and the Chippewas’ rushing attack took over, grinding the clock down and adding a 23-yard field goal from Eavey to complete the scoring.
NIU finished with just 110 yards rushing on 33 carries. Hare completed 18-of-33 passes for 231 yards and two scores, and also threw his first interception of the season. In addition to Brescacin’s six catches for 76 yards, Da’Ron Brown caught four passes for 76 yards, including a 49-yard grab.
The Huskies cap their three-game homestand next Saturday when they welcome Miami (Ohio) to Huskie Stadium for a 4 p.m. kickoff.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.