In the battle for supremacy in the MAC West, the longtime top dogs grabbed the top spot away from their arch rivals.
On a cold, windy Tuesday night in DeKalb, the Northern Illinois Huskies held off the injury-ravaged Toledo Rockets 27-24, jumping back into the driver's seat for their fifth straight division title.
Two very different halves for the Huskies (8-2; 5-1 in MAC), who turned to Cameron Stingily after halftime to drive home a win. After just three carries for two yards in the first half, NIU made a point to give Stingily the rock with more frequency, opening the third quarter with a four-yard touchdown to give NIU a 20-10 lead just four minutes into the third quarter. Stingily ran the ball 18 times in the final thirty minutes for 79 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-clincher with 6:33 to go.
The Rockets (6-4; 5-1 in MAC) used three different quarterbacks on the night, eventually sending wide receiver Dwight Macon under center. Macon, who was recruited as a quarterback but has split time as a receiver and special teamer, performed well in his two-and-a-half quarters accounting for all three Toledo touchdowns and seemingly carrying UT on his back in the second half.
Macon made his presence felt on just his third snap, finding Corey Jones over the middle for a 69-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter to even up the game at 10-10. And after Stingily's first touchdown early in the third, Macon led the Rockets right down the field with the answer just four minutes later.
Macon did so again late in the fourth after the Rockets' defense stopped NIU on fourth down, cutting the lead to three with 2:14 remaining. Toledo's onside kick attempt was recovered by NIU's Luke Eakes, and the Huskies nailed down the win.
One can't help but wonder how this game looks with a healthy Logan Woodside, who did not start this game due to his ankle injury. Woodside came out for one series after the original starter, Michael Julian, left the game in the second quarter with an apparent concussion. But unfortunately for the Rockets, there are no re-dos, and the division is out of their control.
Drew Hare played well for NIU, going 14-for-22 for 190 yards and a touchdown, plus another 66 yards on the ground. It was just the second game Anthony Maddie did not see any action. Da'ron Brown led the Huskies in receiving, including a 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
The work is not done for NIU, who have won five straight over the Rockets. A trip to Ohio looms next week, followed by a potentially monumental date in Western Michigan on the 28. The Broncs lurk behind the Huskies with their Michigan brethren on tap over the next two weeks. And don't forget about one of those... Central Michigan sits a game back of NIU in the division and a win over the Huskies in hand.
Despite struggles along the way, despite not looking like the group we've seen in recent years, the team we're used to seeing at the top of the West is back there again.
The sun rises in the east... and NIU is back atop the West.