Stingy defense nets Huskies first non-conference win

Northern+Illinois+quarterback+Marcus+Childers+%2815%29+makes+a+pass+against+BYU+during+the+second+half+of+an+NCAA+college+football+game%2C+Saturday%2C+Oct.+27%2C+2018%2C+in+Provo%2C+Utah.+%28Evan+Cobb%2FThe+Daily+Herald+via+AP%29

Northern Illinois quarterback Marcus Childers (15) makes a pass against BYU during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Provo, Utah. (Evan Cobb/The Daily Herald via AP)

James Krause

The NIU football team won their first non-conference game of the season with a 7-6 victory in a old school slugfest against the BYU Cougars.

Among the towering mountains of Provo, Utah, the NIU defense stood tall over the Cougars running game, allowing only 2.5 yards per carry.

After scoring four rushing touchdowns on 290 yards in their last game, the Cougars were held to just 93 yards on the ground by NIU.

“I think we stopped the run and that’s our number one goal every week is to stop the run and get to the ball,” sophomore defensive end Matt Lorbeck said.

NIU’s offense struggled in the first half but found a spark out of the locker room in the second half to secure a lead and their only points of the game with a rushing touchdown by sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers.

Head Coach Rod Carey described the game as old-school and ugly, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“That was an old school ugly football game from start to finish,” Carey said. “It was ugly and it’s beautiful to us, I can tell you that, in every way, shape and form.”

With the running game neutralized, the Huskies also had to contain freshman quarterback Zack Wilson in just his second career start. Wilson finished with 208 passing yards, but a late interception by senior safety Mykelti Williams sealed the game for NIU.

Junior linebackers Kyle Pugh and Antonio Jones-Davis lead the team in tackles with seven each. Senior defensive end Josh Corcoran had two of the teams’ five sacks.

Wilson looked like a veteran early, connecting with Micah Simons on a fourth and four to elongate an early drive. BYU would take a 3-0 lead on a 35-yard field goal from kicker Skylar Southam late in the first quarter.

The early field goal were the only points of first half, as both teams held each other in check defensively. BYU and NIU combined for only two third-down conversions in the first half on 14 possible attempts.

NIU missed several early opportunities to take the lead from the Cougars. The Huskies had their own opportunity to make a play on fourth down with one yard to go early in the second quarter, but a false start penalty forced the end of a drive that put NIU in BYU territory.

A defensive pass interference penalty on BYU put the Huskies on the Cougars’ side of the field again late in the second.

NIU came away from the drive scoreless again after a 41-yard field goal attempt from senior kicker Andrew Gantz bounced off the left upright and to the turf, keeping the score 3-0 BYU to end the first half.

The Huskies offense came out swinging in the in the second half with a huge catch and 27-yard gain for junior wide receiver Spencer Tears.

Childers ended the 65-yard drive himself with a 1-yard touchdown rush to give NIU a 7-3 lead early in the third quarter.

Coach Carey said adjustments made at halftime gave NIU the window they needed to score.

“The opening drive of the second half offensively, I really thought we were going to keep scoring there after the first one because we had to make some adjustments,” Carey said. “We got those adjustments done and we came out.”

The Cougars themselves broke off a big drive thanks to a 42-yard completion from Wilson to Talon Shumway to put BYU inside the NIU redzone.

BYU found themselves inside the NIU five yard line, but a pair of false start penalties forced them to fall back and eventually settle for a 27-yard field goal. NIU held on to a small 7-6 lead going into the fourth.

BYU had the opportunity to take the lead in the fourth with a 51-yard field goal, but the kick sailed wide right.

The Huskies offense took over, and after taking time off the clock, sophomore punter Matt Ference pinned the Cougars inside their own one-yard line with a punt that went out of bounds just shy of the endzone pilon.

Both teams traded punts again and the Cougars found themselves the ball with 1:47 remaining, with any score putting them ahead.

On the first play of the BYU possession, Wilson gave up the first and only turnover of the game, throwing an interception over the middle of the field to Williams. NIU would run out the remaining clock to win a 7-6 defensive slugfest.

Williams picked up his second interception as a Huskie, and his sixth of his college career. Williams said even with time playing a factor, the team is always focused defensively on getting the ball back.

“We try to approach every time we go out there the same way, no matter what drive it is,” Williams said. “Of course, we think about what the time is and things of that nature, but, we approach every drive the same way.”

NIU moves to 5-3 on the season and finish their tough non-conference schedule with one win. BYU falls to 4-4 on the season.

The Huskies will have a quick turnaround for their next matchup, going on the road again for a Thursday night conference game against the Akron Zips.