“Looks can be deceiving” is a good way to describe NIU’s first MAC game of the season.
While NIU (4-1, 1-0 MAC) trampled over Central Michigan (2-2, 0-1 MAC) at the end of the game, defeating them 55-24, the two teams were separated by six points in the third quarter.
“The score is 27-21, we had the ball in the red zone,” said Central Michigan coach Dan Enos. “We had a guy open, they made a great play to tip the ball and pick it. Really after that, the ball game was over.”
While it may seem like an overstatement, the statistics back up Enos’s theory. After the interception, which was tipped by junior defensive end Joe Windsor, and picked off by senior defensive end Sean Progar, NIU went on to score 28 points to just three by Central Michigan.
The interception was the first of Progar’s career and the second of the season for NIU. It was the third overall takeaway on the season, as two of the three came in this game.
“It’s definitely something we’ve been emphasizing in practice and talking about as a defense,” Progar said. “Those were two big turning points. We thought the momentum shifted on both those plays. It’s definitely big for the defense and the team as a whole.”
The Huskies scored in practically every way imaginable. They rushed for 407 yards, threw for 215 and added in two special teams fakes.
The first fake occurred early in the second half, when NIU was up 14-7. On fourth down, senior punter Ryan Neir faked and ran the ball for 17 yards, picking up the first down and allowing NIU to continue their drive, which ended in a 43-yard field goal by senior Mathew Sims.
“Every game we have a fake punt, a fake field goal available,” said NIU coach Dave Doeren. “It’s just usually not there. Today, both looks we wanted, they came out in. We’re going to take advantage of looks people give us on offense, defense and special teams.”
Following an NIU drive that saw Sims knock in another field goal from 20 yards, Central Michigan was threatening once again in the red zone. This is when the tipped pass and interception occurred, allowing NIU to score on a nine-yard run from quarterback Jordan Lynch, putting NIU up 34-21.
The second turnover came on a fumble from Chippewas running back Zurlon Tipton, setting up the second of two special teams fakes for NIU.
Sims and the rest of the field goal unit lined up after the offense was turned away from converting on third down. Neir, the holder, received the ball and immediately flipped it over his shoulder to Sims, who ran around the end and into the end zone for a seven-yard run.
“I finally realized I scored... I was happy,” Sims said. “I didn’t really feel the hit anymore. Coach said if I score a touchdown he’s going to give me a game ball. I get a little reward and now it’s back to kicking field goals.”
Offensively, NIU rushed for six touchdowns and had two runners go for over 100 yards in running back Leighton Settle and Lynch. Settle tallied three touchdowns on the day, while Sims posted his first career touchdown. NIU was also 3-3 on fourth down conversions.
While running special teams fakes and going for fourth down plays may seem risky, Doeren believes in his team’s abilities.
“I believe in our staff tremendously,” Doeren said. “I think we have great coaches. I believe in our players. When we get in certain situations where we can help them with a call, we will. Sometimes it just comes down to them making a play. When they have to, they usually come through for us.”