The mood was festive as we neared kickoff at Guarantee Rate Field. The announcers were playing in the bullpen, and talking about the grounds and baseball. It betrayed the intensity of the football game that was about to be played.
The Rockets knew they were 0 for 6 against the Huskies since 2010. NIU knew they were a better team than their crap record. Both had something to prove.
The Huskies were going to have to do it without starting quarterback Anthony Maddie. He was a late scratch for the game. Ryan Graham stepped in, and completed his first pass on a 3rd and 7 play. Gutsy, something he displayed the entire first half.
In spite of his play, the first 5 series from both teams were the same song, punt. On the sixth drive, Graham showed his fortitude again. The replay booth called down on a run of his and made him exit the game for concussion protocol. He was back in the next play, and led the team to the first touchdown of the game. A one yard pass to Shane Wimann. NIU kicked a field goal earlier, but got a gift with a Toledo penalty that gave the drive new life.
The score was 7-0, Huskies to end the half. To start the second half, Cody Thompson of the Rockets caught a pass, and eclipsed the 1000 yard mark for the season. The Rockets ended the drive with a Jameson Vest field goal, putting the score at 7-3.
The gamer Graham marched the Huskies right down the field, throwing an apparent touchdown to Kenny Golladay. As the play was reviewed, the stadium speakers blared “Let It Be” by the Beatles. The catch was confirmed. My vote for play of the week. Not the catch, but the song selection.
On the next drive, Logan Woodside threw a terrible pick that didn’t appear to be headed to any Rocket. It could have been he was trying to chuck it out of bounds, but I believe he and receiver Cody Thompson weren’t on the same page.
The Rockets were able to get a quick stop, and the Huskies did the same. A couple of more punts, and both teams entered the locker room, 14-3. Regardless of the score, the biggest impression I had of the game, at that point, was how hard hitting it was.
My other impression was just how impressive Graham was in his relief duty. 15-22 104 yards passing, with 2 TDs, and 81 rushing yards.
NIU got the second half kickoff and did nothing. Toledo got the ball back in good field position, and in short order, Logan Woodside threw a 27 yard touchdown to Michael Roberts. It was Robert’s 11th TD on the season, a Toledo record for tight ends. 14-10, Huskies. Anyone that wasn’t expecting a game was fooling themselves.
NIU wasn’t to be deterred, converting 4 third downs on their next drive. They went 75 yards on 14 plays, mostly on the ground right at the Toledo rush defense. The hard way, indeed! 21-10 Huskies, with 6:02 left in the third quarter.
Plenty of time, especially how impressive the Rockets looked on their first drive of the second half. Boom! 21-17. They marched right down the field, and scored a touchdown on a Woodside to Jon’Vea Johnson pass that covered 37 yards. Now it was up to the Toledo defense to do their job and give Toledo a chance at the lead.
They did, and the NIU defense did the same. The 21-17 score stood into the 4th quarter. The impression I got at this point in the game was that given enough time, the potent Toledo offense would take over. I just wasn’t just if there was enough time. The NIU offense showed an ability to run the football, and the clock. 187 yards rushing at this point in the game. Toledo started the 4th quarter with the ball, and it seemed like a must score drive.
The Rockets used Kareem Hunt’s legs to march down the field, and relied on the fantastic hands of Michael Robert’s to finish the drive off, for the first lead for Toledo, and Roberts to extend his record for Toledo TE touchdowns. 24-21 Rockets.
NIU mounted a bit of a drive, but ultimately was stopped past midfield and elected to punt. At the time, I thought it was a curious call, since Toledo’s offense was looking pretty good at that point. When you do things the hard way, you trust your defense. The Husky defense validated that trust, and forced a punt. In fact, they almost picked the ball off. (That’s why they play defense, as I said in a previous 5 things learned).
After a Rockets punt, Graham to Golladay put the ball on the Rockets 30. A clear catch to me, I don’t know if it was a catch in the NFL, however. A huge reason why I don’t watch the NFL. He did drop it after catching the ball, going to the ground after both feet hit the ground and there was a bit of a pause. That “Megatron” rule sucks.
Golladay made another great play to keep the drive alive 3 plays later. Toledo’s defense tightens up and you are faced with 4th and goal, and you are at “home” in Chicago at Guarantee Rate Field. Do you kick the field goal and tie? Rod Carey says yes.
Tie game, 4:23 to go, and Toledo took over. With 2:26, Toledo had a huge third and 6 at their own 43. Woodside threw the ball to Hunt way short of the first down. Hunt battled and got it. Toledo kicker Vest was warming up on the sideline, a potential game winning field goal would make anyone nervous. However, the NIU defense was selling out against the run. After a nice stop, Logan Woodside and Jon’Vea Johnson made them pay. They put the ball at the NIU 6 with 1:23 left to play.
Kareem Hunt scored a touchdown, and he got a celebration penalty. He pulled his helmet off. Oops. He put it right back on, but not good enough. The no fun league trickles down to the college game.
1:15 left, and Toledo kicked off from the 20. Northern Illinois took over from their own 43. Toledo went to the classic “prevent defense”. A terrifying experience for anyone that has ever watched college football. On a long throw, Graham threw a pick, ending the game.
Even though I was rooting for Toledo, I felt sorry for Graham. The kid played a fantastic game.
Whenever a team like NIU owns a conference rival, like they have with Toledo recently, you know they aren’t going down without a fight. It was a hell of a game, and tonight, Toledo came out on top. I am glad I got to watch it.