The Northern Illinois Huskies and Illinois State Redbirds faced off in a really tight, low-scoring affair that, in typical Huskie fashion, ended with a huge defensive play. With just over two minutes to play in the game, Jalen McKie was able to intercept a pass and return it 32-yards for a touchdown, sealing the game and putting the Huskies up two scores. The 24-10 victory was NIU’s fifth straight win over ISU.
After weeks of wondering who would be under center for the Huskies, it was announced a few minutes before kickoff that graduate transfer quarterback Ross Bowers would get the nod over last years starter Marcus Childers.
But, despite the new offensive scheme and new quarterback, the Huskies looked very much the same on offense in the first half...as neither team moved the ball much and the score was tied 3-3 after 30 minutes.
Defensively NIU looked solid, holding a usually solid Redbird rushing attack to very little on the ground. ISU managed just 51 rushing yards and their star halfback, James Robinson, barely averaged a yard per carry, gaining 16 yards on 13 carries.
It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the Huskies offense seemed to find a rhythm, as they scored two touchdowns in less than three minutes of game time.
First they marched 92 yards in nine plays and got their first touchdown of the season on a 22-yard TD pass from Bowers to wide receiver Tyrice Richie, another transfer.
The Redbirds, however, had an immediate answer and, on the very next possession, torched the Huskie defense, driving 75 yards in five plays which ended with a 42-yard TD pass from Brady Davis to Taylor Grimes tying the game back up at 10 each.
But NIU would respond instantaneously. On first down Bowers found Richie once again who spun away from a defender and scampered 68-yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The defenses took over from once again as on the next four possessions neither team was able to get anything going. A Huskie punt pinned the Redbirds at their own 11-yard line with 2:50 left to play.
That’s when Davis dropped back on first down, was pressured some, and threw a ball well over his receiver’s head. Huskie cornerback Jalen McKie got underneath the ball, bobbled it some (causing everyone to gasp and hold their breath), but was able to corral it and find his way 32-yards into the endzone, sealing the win for NIU.
From there, the Huskies stopped ISU on four straight plays and, after getting the ball back, ended the game with three straight kneel downs.
The Huskies will hit the road for their next three games, two of which are against top-25 opponents. Next weekend, NIU will head to Salt Lake City to take on the 14th-ranked Utah Utes.
Total Offense: 389 yards (299 passing, 90 rushing)
Bowers: 20/33, 299 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT
Harbison: 23 carries, 99 yards
Richie: 3 receptions, 102 yards, 2 TD
Daniel Crawford: 3 receptions, 75 yards
Total Offense: 238 yards (187 passing, 51 rushing)
Davis: 14/32, 187 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 8 carries, 17 yards
Robinson: 13 carries, 16 yards
Grimes: 6 receptions, 109 yards