Five years ago, when NIU took on Akron, a dark chapter in Huskie history was written as the Zips won the MAC Championship on a Hail Mary pass with seconds remaining in the game.
A 27-10 victory in 2009 was one measure of redemption, but NIU apparently wasn’t done lashing out on the Zips on Saturday night, defeating Akron for the second straight time by a score of 50-14.
“Northern Illinois dominated every phase of the game tonight – offense, defense, special teams,” said Akron head coach Rob Ianello. “They were a much more physical team than us, had more urgency than us and certainly outplayed us in all phases of the game.”
The final score, however, didn’t tell the tale of the first quarter-and-a-half of the game. The Huskies (3-2 overall, 1-0 MAC) trailed Akron (0-5, 0-1) 7-6 over halfway through the second quarter.
In under five minutes, NIU unleashed a 23-0 run to lead 29-7 at halftime.
That run was kickstarted by none other than Chad Spann, who scored the first Huskie touchdown of the game from three yards out to go up 16-7.
Chandler Harnish would connect with Willie Clark a mere 3:28 later for a seven-yard touchdown pass with kicker Michael Cklamovski missing the extra point.
Linebacker Devon Butler finished the half by intercepting a Patrick Nicely pass and returning it 26 yards for pay dirt.
“The interception was huge and Devon did a great job on that play,” said NIU head coach Jerry Kill. “We played a pretty good first half of defense. We executed except for one or two plays.”
Akron showed signs of striking back in its first possession of the second half with Alex Allen rumbling for 74 yards before punching it in from a yard out, cutting the lead to 29-14.
Any good feelings about a comeback soon withered away for the Zips. On NIU’s ensuing drive Harnish again found Clark for a touchdown, this time of the 16-yard variety. A little over three minutes later, the Huskies again had the ball and Harnish hit Nathan Palmer for a 58-yard strike, giving NIU a 43-14 lead.
“Chandler Harnish is playing as good a football game as he has since we’ve been here,” Kill said. “I’ve said all along the team getting the best quarterback play is going to have a great chance to win this league.”
Ricky Crider scored the only fourth quarter points on a 20-yard touchdown run, giving the Huskies 50 points in a game for the first time since Eastern Michigan (50-6) on Nov. 5, 2009.
For the game Harnish was 16-of-20 passing for 281 yards, tying a career-high with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Spann continued to run well for the Huskies, gaining 84 yards on 16 carries. As a team, NIU rushed for 241 yards with each running back averaging at least 5.2 yards a carry.