The Northern Illinois Huskies took an early lead and never looked back as they were able to run the ball against the Eastern Michigan Eagles all night. The game, which started at 1:30 p.m. (CST), didn’t end until 7:30 p.m. due to a nearly three hour lightning delay that happened between the first and second quarters.
The Huskies (3-2, 1-0 MAC) jumped out to an early lead against the Eagles (3-2, 0-1 MAC) after their defense was able to get three sacks and force a fumble in the first ten minutes of the game.
NIU scored the first 17 points of the game which started after Rocky Lombardi found the endzone on a 5-yard TD run midway through the first quarter. After a field goal pushed the lead to 10-0, the game went into the rain delay.
However, on just the third play back, NIU’s Jaden Dolphin intercepted Ben Bryant and returned it 59 yards to the house, giving the Huskies a 17 point lead. The Eagles would get on the board with just two seconds remaining in the first half, after a field goal cut into the lead and made it 17-3.
EMU was able to keep the game close due to quarterback Ben Bryant’s ability to find receivers open, especially in the second half. Bryant finished the night 27/40 with 338 yards and had two TDs to one INT and the Eagles even outgained NIU by 50 total yards (376-326).
The Eagles slowly began to chip away at the deficit, clawing back to make it a seven point game late in the 3rd quarter. After the teams split field goals in the final frame, EMU had a chance to get the ball back with 1:12 remaining. They recovered an onside kick but were flagged for being offsides and, on the re-kick NIU was able to pounce on the ball and end the game. The costly offsides call was one of seven Eagle penalties that resulted in 56 free yards for the Huskies. NIU, who has had foul trouble all season long, was only flagged twice.
What really decided the game was the Eagles rush defense. EMU’s couldn’t stop the Huskie run game all night long as NIU torched the Eagles for 242 yards on the ground. The MAC’s leading rusher, Harrison Waylee, even left late in the second quarter and the Huskies were forced to use backup Antario Brown and fullback Clint Ratkovich for the entire second half. Brown showed that he could take over for Waylee, as he ran for over 100 yards in the second half alone, finishing the night with 101 yards on 16 carries.
Eastern struggled to rush the ball, however, and was even sitting at negative rushing yards midway through the third quarter. Overall the Huskies out-gained EMU on the ground 242-38.
But the Eagles, unlike the Huskies, were able to gain yardage through the air, as they netted 338 passing yards against the NIU secondary. Braynt’s main target was Hassan Beydoun, who amassed a whopping 167 yards on 14 catches and had half of all EMU’s receiving yardage. NIU finished the night with just 84 passing yards and Lombardi was under 50%, going just 9/20.
Next week the Huskies travel to Ohio to take on the Toledo Rockets at noon (11 a.m. CST) in a battle between two of the MAC West powerhouses.
The Eagles will return home next week to take on the Miami RedHawks, who stunned CMU earlier today in order to start 1-0 in the MAC.