Akron clobbers NIU, upsets Huskies’ senior sendoff

Cremascoli tosses pair of picks in blowout loss


Mingda Wu

University of Akron redshirt junior wide receiver Daniel George fails to make a catch against NIU redshirt freshman safety Devin Lafayette early in the second quarter during the game on Saturday.

DeKALB – First quarter success for the Huskies quickly turned sour after NIU gave up 27 unanswered points on its way to a 44-12 blowout loss in Saturday’s regular season finale, ending a turbulent football season that fell well short of championship-winning expectations.

The University of Akron Zips (2-9, 1-6 MAC) dismantled the NIU Huskies (3-9, 2-6 MAC) at Huskie Stadium behind a three-touchdown performance from Akron junior quarterback Jeff Undercuffler Jr. Akron scored a season-high 44 points to earn its first conference win of the season.

Saturday also marked Akron’s first win over NIU in 17 years. NIU had come out victorious in each of its past six meetings with Akron. The Zips’ previous defeat of NIU came in the 2005 MAC Championship Game.

Football head coach Thomas Hammock said he takes full responsibility for Saturday’s staggering loss, citing poor execution and a lack of energy and urgency.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Hammock said. “We didn’t execute; we didn’t play with urgency; we didn’t play with energy; we didn’t play with anything, and that’s on me,”

Redshirt junior kicker John Richardson was NIU’s lone scorer of the day. Richardson made all four of his field goal attempts, his longest being from 34 yards.

Farewell, seniors

NIU honored 12 of its seniors before kickoff on Saturday.

Among NIU’s list of departing seniors were redshirt senior wide receiver Cole Tucker and sixth-year linebacker Kyle Pugh.

Tucker caught four passes for 33 yards in his final outing as a Huskie. His yardage passed the three yards required to become the eighth player in NIU history to crack 2,000 career receiving yards.

Tucker, a DeKalb native, reflected on his six seasons playing in NIU’s colors.

“It’s been a roller coaster … I wouldn’t trade my experience here for anything,” Tucker said. “I’ve had the time of my life at Northern Illinois.”

The game served as the swansong multiple started on both sides of the ball. Junior cornerback Jordan Gandy logged his first and only interception of the season. Junior linebacker Nick Rattin recorded a fumble recovery after a muffed Akron punt return.

A lopsided duel of the No. 13s

Saturday’s game included a matchup of two passers donning jersey No. 13. Freshman quarterback Nevan Cremascoli made his fourth consecutive start for the Huskies while Undercuffler played in relief of redshirt junior D.J. Irons.

Experience prevailed as Undercuffler governed the passing game. Undercuffler had a season-best performance, throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with sophomore wide receiver Alex Adams twice.

Cremascoli struggled in his final showcase of the year, overthrowing his receivers on multiple occasions. The walk-on ended the game with a sub-50% completion percentage and 144 yards passing. Cremascoli was picked off twice and sacked once.

Freshman quarterback Nevan Cremascoli makes a pass in the first quarter of the game against Akron while facing defensive pressure from junior defensive lineman Ryan Johnson and redshirt senior defensive lineman Zach Morton. (Mingda Wu)

A tale of two quarters

The Huskies started the game in the driver’s seat after Richardson knocked two field goals through for a 6-0 NIU lead. NIU (12:22) beat Akron (2:38) in the time-of-possession battle in the first quarter. The defense also held the Zips to 0-2 on third down conversions and 0-1 on fourth down conversions.

The second quarter saw the Zips flip the script after being down 6-3 at the end of the first. Akron posted 17 points in the second quarter to build a streak of 20 unanswered points.

Akron’s second quarter burst was kicked off by Undercuffler’s first passing touchdown of the season. Redshirt junior wide receiver Daniel George took a pass for a 15-yard catch-and-run touchdown to give Akron its first lead of the game.

NIU’s ensuing drive lasted just three plays before the Huskies turned the ball over. Cremascoli’s third down pass bounced off the helmet of redshirt sophomore right guard J.J. Lippe and landed in the hands of Akron redshirt senior nose tackle Curtis Harper.

The Zips took advantage of NIU’s turnover with a five-play offensive drive that ended with Undercuffler’s second TD, a four-yard pass to Adams. Akron’s redshirt junior kicker Cory Smigel tacked on a 31-yard field goal with 26 seconds left in the first half to give the Zips a 20-6 halftime lead.

Akron’s offense outgained NIU in the second quarter, winning the yardage battle by 214 yards. The Zips were also able to keep drives going with 15 first downs. Each of NIU’s second quarter drives resulted in three-and-outs or a turnover.

Redshirt senior defensive end Izayah Green-May and sophomore defensive tackle Devonte O’Malley stand among the Huskies’ defense in a pileup with Akron’s offense during the fourth quarter of Green-May’s last game with NIU on Saturday. (Mingda Wu)

Zips pour on the scores

Akron kept a firm grip on its momentum through halftime as the Zips’ tacked on three more touchdowns.

After both teams went three-and-out on their opening second half possessions, Akron extended its unanswered scoring streak to 27 points with a three-play scoring drive. Undercuffler found Adams downfield on a 61-yard touchdown – their second scoring connection of the day – to grow Akron’s lead to 27-9. Richardson made his third field goal before matters went from bad to worse for the Huskies.

Cremascoli threw his second interception of the game approximately two minutes into the fourth quarter. His pass sailed directly into the waiting arms of Akron sophomore cornerback Tyson Durant who returned the pick for a 76-yard touchdown to boost Akron’s lead to 41-9.

Scoring drew to a close with a tradeoff of field goals. Richardson’s 24-yarder with 3:28 remaining served as NIU’s final act. Akron burned the remaining time off the clock to end the game and NIU’s season.

“I just need some time to gather my thoughts and we’ll be back,” Hammock said. “But we got some things we need to fix.”

NIU, a team once projected to be repeat MAC champions, ends its season at 3-9 and out of the discussion for a bowl game. Akron has one game left to play as the Zips head to their finale against the University at Buffalo Bulls at noon CST Friday in the Empire State. If Akron defeats the Bulls, NIU would drop to the bottom of the conference standings.