On a day where football’s (6-0, 2-0 MAC) offense was hit-and-miss, the defense put forth a solid effort and held down the fort late Saturday for a 27-20 win at Huskie Stadium against the Akron Zips (1-6, 0-3).
After an action-packed first quarter where the teams combined for 31 points and NIU held a 17-14 lead over Akron, the offenses went missing in action for the remaining three quarters. NIU added a third-quarter touchdown and a fourth-quarter field goal to stretch its lead to 27-14.
Akron marched down the field to draw the game within 27-20 with 5:27 remaining, but the Huskies were determined to keep the Zips at bay. On the ensuing PAT attempt, redshirt sophomore linebacker Boomer Mays blocked the kick, which kept it a seven-point game.
The defense held the Zips to 9-of-23 on third down, which looked great compared to NIU’s 1-of-15. More impressive, they held Akron to 1-of-4 on fourth downs, including two stops on the final two drives.
“We’re playing good defense,” said head coach Rod Carey. “You learn that our defense is a good defense and they have the ability to carry us. And tonight they did. Now, we don’t want to keep putting them in that situation, we want the offense to be going too, but I’m really proud of them.”
After the offense went 3 and out following Mays’ blocked PAT, the defense rose to the challenge as they held the Zips to 1 yard and forced a turnover on downs. Senior defensive end George Rainey hurried Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl on fourth down and senior safety Jimmie Ward broke up the pass.
The offense had an opportunity to put the game away with a first down, but failed to do anything on its next possession as they went 3 and out and Tyler Wedel’s 40-yard field goal was blocked, giving the Zips new life with 1:14 to go. The Huskies’ defense came to play and rose to the occasion one more time.
The defense gave up one first down, but then pressured Pohl on four straight plays, highlighted by quarterback hurries from sophomore defensive end Perez Ford and senior defensive end Joe Windsor and a pass breakup by Marlon Moore. The defense forced four consecutive incompletions, the last one sealing the victory.
“We put our defense in a real tough spot most of the game,” Carey said. “I was really, really happy with our defense.”