The Toledo Rockets: the first team from the Mid-American Conference to crack the College Football Playoff rankings, had the first set of points scored against them in the third quarter all season, had two running backs surpass 100 yards on the ground for the first time all season, had their quarterback sacked for the first time (twice, actually), and ultimately lost their first game of the season to the Northern Illinois Huskies. The Huskies (6-3, 4-1 MAC) extend their win streak over Toledo (7-1, 4-1 MAC) for the sixth year in the row with the 32-27 final score.
A missed field goal by Jameson Vest [to put the Rockets ahead by five late in the game] set up the most crucial drive in Northern Illinois' favor. A pair of nice plays from backup Huskies quarterback Ryan Graham to Kenny Golladay, for 13 and 44 yards, helped set up Joel Bouagnon for a touchdown run to be muscled in and put the Huskies ahead by five.
"Northern Illinois played four quarters of disciplined football and unfortunately we didn't," Toledo head coach Matt Campbell said after the game. "We were not our best tonight and that cost us the football game."
That following drive, Toledo had about two minutes of clock to work with, but a Phillip Ely pass over the middle was tipped and bobbled around before it was finally intercepted by Boomer Mays, sealing the victory.
"Losing football games is frustrating regardless of the situation," senior linebacker Trent Voss said.
In the first quarter, a 22-yard touchdown run by Terry Swanson was called back by a holding call on wide receiver Alonzo Russell. While it took a few extra plays to punch it back into the end zone, Russell caught an 11-yard pass off the arm of Phillip Ely to put the Rockets on the board first. Russell moved up the career stat sheet to tie Bernard Reedy with 23 touchdown receptions for a career. But the Huskies waste no time firing back with a touchdown pass of their own, as Tommylee Lewis was found wide open down the middle of the field, catching a 67-yard pass by Drew Hare. That would immediately tie things up at seven a piece midway through the first quarter.
Lewis came out of the game with an injury on non-contact in the second quarter, but left a great impression before leaving -- five receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown all in the first quarter.
Down by 10 after a rushing touchdown from Kareem Hunt and a field goal by Vest, Northern Illinois had one of the wildest plays of the night. A horrible snap went way over Drew Hare's head, moved them way back and eventually found themselves in a 3rd & 39 spot,
Hare had to come out of the game midway through the second quarter on a leg injury on a non-contact play, put in . In comes redshirt-freshman Ryan Graham to try to lead his team from a 7-point deficit, who only has 31 passing yards and an interception to his name coming in. He didn't have the most triumphant games, or even a game that he'll be remembered for, but was still efficient going 9-for-12 through the air with 132 passing yards and one touchdown.
"It's next man up," Huskies head coach Rod Carey said. "That's the mentality you always have as the back-up QB... He just shadowed [Hare] with all the film study he's been doing for last six weeks. Once he got his blood flowing tonight, he really calmed down."
Hare had some big plays with Lewis, finished with 145 passing yards and a touchdown, 7-for-13 for the air.
The importance of beating No. 20 Toledo Rockets for Northern Illinois Huskies football
While Toledo seeks perfection, Northern Illinois seeks permanence.
Terry Swanson and Kareem Hunt highlighted the Rocket offense. Hunt had a pair of touchdowns: one in the first quarter and one later in the third after a series of goal line stops by the Huskies. Hunt finished with 140 yards on 25 carries while Swanson picked up 133 on the ground on 16 rushes. "I certainly wasn't disappointed in either of those two," Campbell said. "Our game plan was to run the football offensively, but our passing game wasn't where we needed to be."
Ely didn't play great game. 15-for-33 through the air (6-for-12 in the second half) for 136 yards for a final line, he found Russell the one time, but had his first of two interceptions late in the second quarter that resulted in the Huskies kicking a field goal to end the half.
Christian Hagan made three short field goals in the first half to help close the gap. He was 8-for-11 coming into the season, but tonight moved his field goal percentage up to 80 percent going 4-for-4 in the game. Hagan's longest was for 52 yards in the third quarter, the longest field goal by an NIU kicker since 2008. It was also the first time anybody's scored against Toledo in the third quarter this season.
There would've been a fifth field goal by Hagan, but the Rockets were flagged for leverage on the NIU field goal attempt and gave the Huskies a new set of downs and better field position. Graham tossed one in the back of the end zone, Golladay came down with a great one-handed catch for the score. The Huskies went for two with Toledo leading 27-25, but the read option was a failed attempt.
Bouagnon, the MAC leader in rushing touchdowns and had the game-winning score, had 87 rushing yards on 26 carries. Graham had 41 rushing yards on 10 carries, including a long of 38. Kenny Golladay led the Huskies with eight receptions and 128 yards with one score.
This seems a lot like how last year's tie-breakers started to play out. The Rockets and Huskies both with a loss in conference play: Toledo's loss to Northern Illinois and the Huskies' loss is to Central Michigan. Central Michigan has already lost a MAC game against Western Michigan, so NIU would be moving up to the top of the MAC West if it weren't for Western Michigan's 4-0 start in conference play (will play Ball State on Thursday) and the head-to-head tiebreaker against CMU.
November, as advertised, is going to show a lot of vulnerability from teams in the MAC West and so far it's off to an exciting start.