The NIU football team found the red zone plenty of times in tallying more than 400 yards of offense Tuesday night at the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl but failed to capitalize on most of those trips, falling 52-23 to a Marshall team that did capitalize on opportunity.
Marshall was 6-for-6 in the red zone, and the Huskies converted 4-of-5 chances, but kicker Christian Hagan scored on most of those trips.
“You give credit to Marshall. They made a ton of plays tonight. We didn’t make enough,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “I don’t think we played real well, and that’s too bad because we’ve had an unbelievable season. It’s been a great ride, and we are still champions of our league.”
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato extended his streak of throwing at least one touchdown pass to 46 consecutive games, tying an NCAA all-division record.
Cato completed 25 of 37 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns passing while scoring twice on the ground. His favorite target was Tommy Shuler (18 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown).
The Huskies’ Drew Hare threw for 225 yards and a score, and NIU added 200 on the ground, including 50 from Hare. NIU outgained the Herd in the first half but trailed 24-13 after of converting two of three field goal tries.
A pass interference penalty set up the first score of the game, a 19-yard pitch-and-catch from Hare to Juwan Brescacin, marking the 10th straight game the Huskies scored first. Marshall got it right back, returning the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a TD to tie the score.
“Obviously those seven points didn’t determine the game, but I definitely think it gave them some momentum,” Carey said.
Coach Carey whipped out a couple trick plays – most notably, an onside kick that the Huskies recovered to open the second half but turned the ball over on downs when Arnold Blackmon stopped Cameron Stingily for no gain on fourth and 1 at midfield – but the team could not turn those opportunities into points.
With the score 31-13, Hare hooked up with Aregeros Turner for a 30-yard gain before Stingily rushed for a 24-yard score on the following play to cap the Huskie scoring.
Marshall finished 13-1, while NIU finished 11-3 on the season.The Huskies won three of the last four Mid-American Conference championships, and the senior class tied for the most wins in program history.
“There’s a lot of heartache in there, and that’s because these guys care and poured their whole selves into this thing. But when the dust settles, the first thing they’re going to think of is MAC Championships and things like that they’ve been a part of,” said Carey.
For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.