After early and late Ohio touchdowns, NIU responded as one expects NIU teams to. It is November after all. The Huskies had won 22 straight football games in the month of November. They did not win tonight.
Ohio dominated most facets of the game in the first half, leaving the home crowd stunned and booing their hometown Huskies in a home November football game likely for the first time in a long time. But that was just the first half.
True freshman Tommy Feidler gave NIU a chance late, leading the Huskies on what was an incredible 90-yard drive that culminated with 1:45 to go on a Kenny Golladay 14-yard score and the Huskies down 26-21. But after Ohio recored an inside kick, it was over.
NIU's loss earlier in the season to CMU had been its lone MAC home loss since 2009 and it had won 22 consecutive games in November heading into play Tuesday night. The Ohio victory marked an end to a streak of 17 consecutive wins against MAC East opponents in the regular season before falling 26-21 to Ohio tonight.
But let's back up a bit.
On NIU's first drive of the second half, a 62-yard catch and run from Graham to Juwan Brescacin practically doubled NIU's yardage output up to that point. Two plays later, Golladay churned his legs on a pitch-and-catch for a Huskie TD that put things at 20-14. This was supposed to be the turning point. Freshman Ryan Graham was finding his footing despite the fact that the Ohio defense had thrown the book at the NIU offense for the first 30 minutes of play. And yet...
Ohio held its ground.
The Huskies drove to midfield after converting a fourth down with about 5:00 to go in the third quarter. The Bobcats stuffed a few NIU attempts, and then the Bobcats made the play that changed the entire atmosphere of the stadium. Senior linebacker Chad Moore made one of the biggest plays of his collegiate career with a strip-sack of Graham, and the freshman quarterback ended up hurt on the play. He was unable to go after that, and the Huskies had to go to Tommy Fielder at quarterback. The true freshman was sporadic and looked understandably unprepared until the Huskies' last drive.
Two Ohio field goals made up the only scores from that point on as Ohio went on to win its eighth game of the year.
It's hard to believe Ohio was in this position given that it too had worked its way down the depth chart at the quarterback position as well. Sprague and AJ Ouellette led an impressive looking Ohio offense in the first half. Late in the second was when things turned sour momentarily. The 'Cats tried to get cutesy and ran a reverse pass with Brendan Cope chucking up a jump ball to Sprague, who came down hard on his head. Sprague tumbled pretty hard and proceeded to sit the rest of the game. Ohio finished that drive with a field goal, but any Ohio fan would have had a pit in their stomach knowing that the inexperienced Windham was coming in. However, Windham did just fine.
Windham went 7-16 in the game for 76 yards on the ground as the play calling became a wee bit more conservative. He also threw the first touchdown of his time in Athens.
Ohio looked prepared from the outset and on its second drive, the 'Cats mixed runs and passes effectively. The drive culminated in a beautiful toss over the top from Sprague to Jordan Reid to put Ohio up early. NIU responded when, after punting itself, forced a fumble with Ohio in its own red zone and converted that opportunity into a 5-yard Ohio score.
Marlon Moore, Shawun Lurry and Boomer Mays were all over the field throughout the night with the two DB's making nice plays against the pass, but were not able to produce a game changer. However, Ohio controlled possession for most of the game and finished with 398 yards of offense (230 in the run game).
Ouellette ended the night with 140 yards on 30 carries. His play was essential in Ohio's offensive success, and his recent resurgence has been much needed. He also did this, and it was pretty cool.
The Huskies were only able to pick up 73 yards on the ground and were not able to control possession, Ohio held control of the football about 10 minutes longer.