The final postseason appearance by a Mid-American Conference program, the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl saw more than one fake special teams attempt, deep throws, a balanced Duke offense and Ralphie the Mascot Dog.
Since the Ford Field based bowl game earned a new name back in 2014, the MAC has sent two teams to Detroit, Michigan, including NIU, who has yet to win past the month of November under coach Rod Carey.
Here’s what happened:
Northern Illinois received the ball for the opening kickoff, starting the game with three straight drives ending in a three-and-out. Freshman Marcus Childers recorded three incomplete passes and three rushes for a combined 10 yards.
Duke’s offense, despite having their opening possession also ending in a punt, scored at the 9:28 mark, starting at the 42 and using 10 plays before quarterback Daniel Jones walked into the end zone on the quarterback option.
Facing a third down situation at the 20 midway through the quarter, Childers was sacked and brought back nine yards. Expected to punt, NIU did the unthinkable on fourth and 18 as punter Matt Ference attempting a pass deep in the end zone, falling short to Traysho Foster.
The questionable call gave the Blue Devils field position inside the red zone. It took just four plays for running back Shaun Wilson to punch it up the middle for the one-yard touchdown.
What appeared to be the Huskies shaking off the early jitters ended in a second consecutive failed conversion on fourth down with 36 seconds remaining. Childers had a 14-yard rushing gain which was then followed by a 20-yard completion to D.J. Brown, four plays before Childers was stopped for a loss of one, effectively turning the ball over.
Teams can change gears but nothing as comparable to what NIU did in the first three minutes of the quarter.
It started when the Huskies got the ball at their own 32, needing just two plays, including a 43-yard rainbow throw to Spencer Tears for 43 yards, which propelled Tre Harbison to get a wide-opened 25-yard run off the left-side of the offensive line.
Harbison, the freshman, got his third rushing touchdown of the season and second since Nov. 24 at Central Michigan. Senior starter Jordan Huff didn’t play with an ankle injury.
The longest completed throw for Childers of 67 yards went to Jauan Wesley at the 12:22 mark, which tied the score at 14. The reigning MAC Freshman of the Year honoree career-high during the regular-season went for 73 yards over two months ago in the 48-17 win against Bowling Green.
Duke did pull ahead with six minutes remaining before halftime. After picking up a 12 yard run on third down, Jones found wide receiver T.J. Rahming for the 33-yard touchdown. Jones came into Tuesday with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Missing the extra point, the Blue Devils tried for two-points at the 1:33 mark when Jones got his second touchdown pass, failing to convert on that as well. Both teams went into halftime with over 200 yards of total offense. NIU converted just one on seven tries during third down situations.
Northern Illinois did it again. Not score, but try another fake special teams play to no prevail. Facing fourth and 14 at the Duke 22, the Huskies sent out the field goal unit.
Converting the kick would erase some of the deficit to nine points, still a two-score difference but single-digits nonetheless. Instead of playing it safe, the pass attempt failed immediately due to a bad snap. Holder Josh Orne was tackled right as he got up from his stance.
Duke responded by needing 11 plays to go 67 yards for the opening touchdown of the half from running back Brittain Brown, who had one during each of the final three games of the regular-season.
The next possession for the Huskies was their fourth consecutive failed fourth down conversion. They also were 1-of-9 on third down heading into the fourth quarter.
Each team had only two offensive possession but it was Duke’s first that had any significance, being that it led to a 24-yard field goal.
The drive began with 15 seconds left in the third quarter and ended at the 7:37 mark. When the three points was converted, unsportsmanlike penalties were issued to both programs.
For the Huskies, a Childers sack and incomplete pass were the final plays of the two offensive series, giving way to the fifth and eventual sixth total turnover on downs.
Duke netted 465 yards of total offense, compared to the 299 garnered by NIU, who didn’t eclipse 100 yards on the ground. Childers was 15-of-26 passing for 234 yards and a touchdown, while Jones completed 27 of his 40 passes for 252 and three touchdowns, including two through the air.