Lost in the snow: Huskies fall short of Mallory Cup in cold-weather battle

NIU drops third straight matchup with Miami-Ohio


Mingda Wu

NIU redshirt senior tight end Liam Soraghan turns upfield after catching a pass from freshman quarterback Nevan Cremascoli in the first quarter of Wednesday’s football game between the NIU Huskies and the Miami University RedHawks. Soraghan finished the play by rolling into the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown, increasing the Huskies’ lead to 10-0. (Mingda Wu | Northern Star)

DeKALB – The Huskies will have to wait a little while longer for their chance of winning the Mallory Cup after a late interception sealed NIU football’s 29-23 defeat in its final midweek MACtion game of the season at Huskie Stadium.

NIU (3-8, 2-5 MAC) lost its third straight game to the Miami University RedHawks (5-6, 3-4 MAC) on Wednesday night. The Huskies’ most recent victory over the RedHawks dates back to Oct. 17, 2015, when NIU scored five rushing touchdowns in a 45-12 blowout at Yager Stadium in Oxford, Ohio.

The Mallory Cup

NIU and Miami began playing for the Mallory Cup in the 2018. The trophy was established in honor of the late Bill Mallory, who was the head football coach at Miami from 1969 to 1973 and later NIU from 1980 to 1983. Mallory passed away on May 25, 2018.

Miami got the first claim of the trophy after beating NIU 13-7 and spoiling its Senior Night on Nov. 14, 2018. The RedHawks defended the trophy the following season with a 27-24 win on Oct. 19, 2019.

Struggling Huskies

An unremarkable performance by NIU football’s offense and special teams units contributed to the Huskies’ struggles in a snowy 29-23 loss to the Miami University Redhawks in the final midweek MACtion game of the season.

The NIU offense totaled 365 yards. More than half of NIU’s offensive yardage came on three plays. The Huskies were also unable to convert on third down Wednesday, going 0-for-9.

“We didn’t execute well at all on third down,” head coach Thomas Hammock said. “They (Miami) stacked the box and we didn’t have enough third and manageable, short and medium situations and we just didn’t have enough consistency on offense.”

Freshman quarterback Nevan Cremascoli started his second straight game for the Huskies. Cremascoli went 14-for-21 with 165 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“I think just being out there, I have definitely gotten more used to it,” Cremascoli said, “I’ve calmed down a little bit more and I’ve learned from last game the importance of protecting the ball, and that was an important thing for me all week.”

NIU’s special teams made costly mistakes in the game. After a touchdown in the third quarter, the snap for the extra point attempt was dropped, causing the Huskies to miss the attempt. There was a blocked punt in the second quarter. Redshirt sophomore punter Tom Foley dropped the snap, allowing the defense to get in the backfield and block the punt.

“Our special teams hurt us today in a variety of ways,” Hammock said. “That hasn’t been the case all season but in a game like this, a one possession game, we need all guys working together.”

The defense also experienced issues containing Miami’s redshirt freshman quarterback Aveon Smith. Smith accounted for three touchdowns, two on the ground and one through the air, playing in relief of junior quarterback Brett Gabbert.

Injuries continue to affect NIU

Sophomore running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown made their returns after they both missed last week’s game against Western Michigan University with injuries. Waylee only managed to gain nine yards on six attempts before leaving the game with another injury. Brown had NIU’s longest play of the night, an 86-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.

Brown recorded five carries for 97 yards and a touchdown. He was seen limping off the field shortly after his touchdown and did not return for the game.

The Huskies’ top two quarterbacks, redshirt senior Rocky Lombardi and redshirt freshman Ethan Hampton, were unavailable for Wednesday’s game due to injuries sustained earlier in the season.

Playing in the snow

Freshman running back Jaiden Credle started the game with a 55-yard run that put the Huskies in the red zone after their first offensive play. Credle finished the game with 15 carries for 97 yards.

The Huskies finished their opening drive with a 31-yard field goal from redshirt junior kicker John Richardson. NIU scored again on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Cremascoli to redshirt senior tight end Liam Soraghan. The Huskies were unable to find the end zone again for the remainder of the first half.

At halftime, the Huskies trailed Miami 16-10. Cremascoli went 6-for-6 passing with 54 yards and one touchdown. Credle rushed for 86 yards on 11 carries in the first half.

Third quarter scoring shootout

The Huskies started the second half strong after scoring on the first offensive drive coming out of halftime. Cremascoli found junior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz deep downfield and connected for a 53-yard touchdown, giving NIU a 17-16 lead.

NIU’s only turnover of the night came off of a strip sack fumble forced by sophomore defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley with approximately five minutes remaining in the third quarter. O’Malley recovered the fumble at Miami’s 46-yard line, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the RedHawks gave the Huskies the ball at the 31-yard line.

“The defense just plays with non-stop effort and I didn’t go in saying ‘I’m gonna strip the ball,'” O’Malley said. “It just happened and the play was there so I made the play.”

NIU’s offense was unable to score following the takeaway, giving the ball back to Miami on a drop-kick punt by sophomore quarterback Justin Lynch.

Miami extended its lead to 26-17 after Miami redshirt senior wide receiver Mac Hippenhammer caught a long pass from Smith near NIU’s 15-yard line. Hippenhammer ran the rest of the way to finish off a 47-yard touchdown reception.

The Huskies responded with quick scoring drive on their final possession of the quarter. Brown started the drive with a 5-yard rush before breaking off on an 86-yard touchdown run the following play.

Miami’s final blows to NIU

Both sides punted the ball away on each of their opening possessions of the first quarter. Miami marched down to NIU’s six-yard line on its next drive before staggering, leading to a 24-yard field goal by the RedHawks.

The game ended with Cremascoli throwing an interception to RedHawk sophomore cornerback John Saunders Jr. with 4:43 remaining in the game. The Redhawks ran the final minutes off the clock, sealing a 29-23 victory for Miami.

NIU remains last place in the MAC West after this game. Miami is one win closer to achieving bowl eligibility, needing to beat Ball State University (5-6, 3-4 MAC) at 7 p.m. Tuesday to reach the 6-6 minimum record required.

The Huskies close out the regular season at 12:30 p.m. Saturday as they host the University of Akron Zips (1-9, 0-6 MAC) at Huskie Stadium. A live broadcast of the game will be available on ESPN3. Live statistics will be provided by SIDEARM Sports.