Huskies overcome hurdles in 24-16 win
Clutch defensive stops helped the NIU football team pick up their first victory of the season Saturday, beating the Central Michigan Chippewas 24-16.
The defensive end of the Huskies were put in difficult situations all day, but Head Coach Rod Carey said pressure doesn’t affect his squad.
“I love the way we come out and attack things defensively,” Carey said in a post game press conference. “They absolutely do not care. They take that as a challenge.”
Special teams errors put the NIU defense on the ropes early as a pair of bad snaps from senior long snapper Hayden Sak to sophomore punter Matt Ference gave the Chippewas very good field position on a pair of drives.
The NIU defense was able to stop the bleeding, only giving up a 27-yard field goal to put the Chippewas up 3-0 in the second quarter.
The Huskies defense came up with another clutch play in the second quarter when junior linebacker Anthony Jones-Davis forced a fumble at the NIU 19-yard line that was recovered by NIU. Jones-Davis said the mindset of the defense in tough situations is simple but has proven to be effective.
“Put the fire out and execute,” Jones-Davis said. “We practice a lot of situational things, and that’s one of them. We have to put the fire out and execute, and that’s what we focused on.”
The offense payed them back by putting together a 79-yard drive that ended in a 14 yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers to junior wide receiver Spencer Tears. NIU went ahead 7-3.
Childers would finish the game with three passing touchdowns, while redshirt sophomore running back Tre Harbison finished with a career high 124 rushing yards. It was the best offensive performance the Huskies have put on all season, and Harbison attributes that to a change in focus.
“We went out there and just executed,” Harbison said. “In practice, we focused more on the little things and trying to get better as a whole offense.”
Redshirt junior defensive end Sutton Smith came up with big plays this week on special teams, blocking a CMU punt to put NIU’s offense in good field position.
Four plays later, redshirt freshman Dennis Robinson caught his first career catch in the endzone to put NIU up 14-3 before halftime.
The Huskies extended their lead in the third quarter, as Childers found senior wide receiver DJ Brown in the endzone on a four yard pass to go up 21-3. Brown led the Huskies in receiving with four catches for 69 yards.
Backup junior quarterback Tommy Lazzaro took over the Chippewas offense following the NIU touchdown, and sparked a 66-yard drive that ended in a six yard keeper for Lazzaro. The rally was on for the Chippewas.
Lazzaro commanded a late charge for the Chippewas with another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but a pass deflection on a two point conversion attempt meant NIU still held a 21-16 lead.
With a 37-yard field goal from senior kicker Andrew Gantz, NIU had to keep the Chippewas out of the endzone to pick up the win. With three minutes remaining, the Chippewas manufactured a drive that placed them at the NIU 15 with under a minute to go.
Once again, the defense hun on as redshirt freshman linebacker Vinny Labus intercepted a tipped ball to secure the 24-16 victory for the Huskies.
Carey said the ebb and flow of the game meant it was going to be a game that went down to the wire and smart football paid dividends.
“We knew it was going to be four quarters,” Carey said. “With the ebbs and flows of that game, we’re glad we got to pull it out with a nice pick from Vinny Labus and a really heads up play for him to get down on it and not give them another chance.”
With the win, Carey and the Huskies sit at 1-2 on the season with a chance to even the win-loss column in a 2013 Orange Bowl rematch against the Florida State Seminoles 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida.