NIU moved into first place in the Mid-American Conference West Division with a 27-24 victory over Toledo on Tuesday night at Huskie Stadium.
With the win NIU improves to 8-2 overall, 5-1 in the MAC, while Toledo suffered its first league loss to fall to 6-4 overall, 5-1 in league play.
Senior tailback Cameron Stingily (Romeoville, Ill./Romeoville) scored a pair of touchdowns, the last on a two-yard run with 6:33 to play that gave the Huskies a 27-17 lead. Stingily’s touchdown run capped an 11-play, 82-yard drive in which he gained 41 yards on six carries.
The key play on the drive came when quarterback Drew Hare (O’Fallon, Mo./Fort Zumwalt West) connected with Aregeros Turner (Copley, Ohio/Copley) for seven yards on fourth and five to the Toledo 20-yard line.
Stingily finished the game with 81 yards on 21 carries as the Huskies totaled 226 yards on 46 carries as a team. NIU totaled 168 rushing yards in the second half.
“That’s a good defense and in the first half, I thought they got the better of us,” NIU head coach Rod Carey said. “In the second half, we kept searching for the things that worked and we hit a few. Cameron is a guy that when we get him going, get him downhill, he can make plays.“
Hare finished the game 14-of-22 passing for 190 yards and a score as NIU earned its fifth consecutive victory over the Rockets.
‘We made the plays when we had to,” said Carey, who saw the Rockets pull within three points on a three-yard touchdown run by reserve quarterback Dwight Macon with 2:14 to play. “At critical moments, on critical plays, we made them. It’s a credit to the players, they executed them.”
After Macon’s score, the Huskies’ Luke Eakes recovered Toledo’s onside kick attempt. NIU ran the clock down to 10 seconds before being forced to punt and the Rockets hook-and-lateral play came up well short.
Macon entered the game in an emergency quarterback role when first time starter Michael Julian went out with an injury and Logan Woodside, who had started the previous seven games for Toledo, was unable to play due to an injury suffered a week ago. Macon finished eight-of-11 passing for 140 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 97 yards on 18 carries with two scores. Kareem Hunt gained a game-best 119 yards on 18 carries for the Rockets.
NIU go on the scoreboard first as freshman Christian Hagan (Omaha, Neb./Westside HS) connected on a 37-yard field goal midway through the opening quarter as the Huskies took a 3-0 lead. The field goal was the first of Hagan’s career.
After the Huskie defense forced Toledo into its third consecutive three-and-out to open the game, it took the NIU offense just two plays to go 65 yards for the first touchdown.
Following a one yard run by Stingily, Hare connected with senior wide receiver Da’Ron Brown (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park) for a 64-yard score. Brown caught a short pass from Hare, made one man miss near the line of scrimmage and then outraced everyone to the end zone as the Huskies took a 10-0 lead. Brown finished the game with three catches for a team-high 73 yards.
Toledo responded with an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal. The Rockets moved down to the NIU two-yard line, aided by a 39-yard pass from Julian to Alonzo Russell, but the Huskie defense held and Toledo settled for a Detmer field goal.
The Rockets tied the game with 5:22 to play in the second quarter when Macon came in at quarterback and found Corey Jones behind the Huskie defense for a 69-yard touchdown to tie the game, 10-10.
NIU regained the lead on the next drive as Hagan capped a 10-play, 73-yard drive with a 19-yard field goal. Hare connected with Turner for 39 yards to the Toledo two-yard line, but this time it was the Rockets holding the Huskies out of the end zone as Hagan’s short field goal gave NIU a three-point lead at the half.
The Huskies and Rockets traded punts to begin the second half and NIU took a 10-point lead on a 4-yard touchdown from Stingily. The big play of the drive was a 61-yard end around by Brown down to the Toledo 15-yard line. Three plays later Stingily scored as NIU took a 20-10 lead with 9:18 to play.
Toledo answered back with a nine-play, 75-yard drive to cut the NIU lead to 20-17. Macon completed a pair of passes for 28 yards and rushed for 27 yards on four carries on the drive, capped by a 1-yard touchdown run, as the Rockets pulled back within three with 6:36 left in the third quarter.
Up next for NIU is a trip to Athens, Ohio, on Tuesday, Nov. 18, to face the Ohio Bobcats. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be shown live on ESPNU or ESPN3.