They were trying to get a first down.
That’s the explanation given by Northern Illinois (8-5) coach Rod Carey on the failed fake punt attempt in the first quarter. Not only was it surprising given the fact that punter Matt Ference was deep in the NIU end zone, but that the team also needed 18 yards for a new set of downs.
“That’s the easiest thing I can tell you,” Carey said. “The play before that, they really mugged up our gunner and we thought, ‘if we get an incompletion it’ll be an interference.’ You know, it’s a punter throwing to a (defensive back), it’s a tough one to get unless you can get an interference.”
The execution went sour upon which Duke (7-6) capitalized, needing just three plays for 11 yards to go-ahead early by 14 points, eventually securing its fourth winning season in five years after squandering the Huskies in the 2017 Quick Lane Bowl.
The early special teams gaffe wouldn’t be the last of its kind on Tuesday. From what appeared to be a fake field goal kick in the third quarter with Northern Illinois trailing 26-14, a poor snap led to holder Josh Orne trying to turn something out of nothing.
Orne would be tackled immediately from his stance for a loss of one.
“(The ball) skipped back to him and called fire,” Carey said. “Then the guy came off the edge and made the tackle. It was disappointing coming out of the half, we could’ve gotten it back up to a one-score game and didn’t.”
The Huskies, who made their ninth bowl game in 10 years, have now lost five consecutive under Carey dating back to 2011. After the 36-14 finish, NIU is the fourth team from the Mid-American Conference to fall in its respected postseason game this season.
Mycial Allen’s career at Northern Illinois has come full-circle, playing his final collegiate game not far away from where he grew up.
A graduate of football powerhouse Detroit King High School, where the safety was a three-time captain, winning the Detroit Public School League championship his senior season in 2012, Allen called Tuesday’s experience a bittersweet moment.
“The seniors that I came in with, we share a bond that is unbreakable,” Allen said. “My teammates going out there and flying around, making plays, that’s one bond that nobody can break.”
Finishing with a team-high eight solo tackles against Duke, Allen also had one pass breakup, capping off a five-year run in which he’s totaled 138 tackles and six interceptions.
“(Allen) played like he’s been playing all year, which is at a high level,” Carey said. “Certainly, going to miss Mycial and all of the seniors in every way, shape or form.”
Northern Illinois had 15 extra practices in preparation for the Quick Lane Bowl, giving way to extra opportunities for freshman quarterback Marcus Childers to build stronger relationships with the wide receiver corp.
The chemistry gained brought forth an emphasis in the deep throwing game, something not seen much of from the Huskies before. Childers’ one and only touchdown pass was good for 67 yards to Jauan Wesley. It tied the game at 14 before the Blue Devils scored 22 unanswered points.
Earlier, the reigning MAC Freshman of the Year recipient had a 43-yard bomb on the previous drive before freshman Tre Harbison scored from 25 yards out. Childers finished with 234 passing yards on 15-of-26 passing, along with 19 yards on 11 carries.
“There’s a lot of opportunities that we left out there,” Childers said. “There’s stuff that we have to work on and get better at. me being more consistent and the guys being more consistent too with catching the ball.”
For Harbison, he got the start at running back after it was announced that senior Jordan Huff was out with an ankle injury. Scoring two touchdowns during the regular-season, including one against Central Michigan the day after Thanksgiving, the 5-foot-11 speedster had 13 carries for 59 yards.
“Tre coming in and filling in for Jordan, he’s been really good,” Childers said. “Came in, played really well, runs the ball really hard. Really physical and gives us a little bit of life with the offense that we need.”