Boca Raton Bowl Rapid Reaction: Marshall 52, NIU football 23


NIU football plays the Marshall Thundering Herd in the Boca Raton Bowl.

By Frank Gogola

What happened: The Huskies (11-3) lost to the Conference USA-champion Marshall Thundering Herd (13-1), 52-23, in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Fla.

How it happened: The Thundering Herd jumpstarted their scoring with a 93-yard kickoff returned for a touchdown by Deandre Reaves. Reaves’ touchdown came on the ensuing kickoff after NIU opened the scoring on a 19-yard touchdown strike from redshirt sophomore quarterback Drew Hare to Juwan Brescacin, redshirt junior wide receiver, midway through the first quarter.

Marshall senior quarterback Rakeem Cato scored on a 5-yard quarterback keeper, and kicker Justin Haig drilled a 28-yard field goal to put Marshall up 17-7. Huskies freshman kicker Christian Hagan split the uprights with kicks of 19 yards and 30 yards with a touchdown run from Marshall running back Devon Johnson sandwiched in between. NIU trailed 24-13 at the half.

The Huskies had a golden opportunity to cut their deficit as sophomore linebacker Jamaal Payton recovered an onside kick to open the third quarter. However, the Huskies promptly turned the ball over on downs as redshirt senior tailback Cameron Stingily was stuffed on a fourth and 1 near midfield.

Marshall proceeded to outscore NIU 28-10 in the second half en route to a 52-23 win. The Thundering Herd were in the backfield all night, recording seven tackles for loss and sacking Hare three times. The Huskies came into the game having allowed only 11 sacks in 13 games.

The Huskies converted four of their five red zone possessions into points, but they had to settle for three field goals and missed a 32-yard field goal wide right, posting only one touchdown.

What it means: The Huskies end their season with a loss in a bowl game for the third season in a row. They lost in the Orange Bowl two seasons ago, in the Poinsettia Bowl last season and in the Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday. Carey has yet to win a bowl game as NIU’s head coach.

The Huskies’ last win in a bowl game came following the 2011 season when they beat Arkansas State, 38-20, in the Bowl Jan. 8, 2012, in Mobile, Ala.

Three stars:

3. Marshall running back Devon Johnson: 15 carries for 131 yards and one touchdown

2. Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler: 18 receptions for 185 yards and one touchdown

1. Marshall senior quarterback Rakeem Cato: 25-37 for 281 yards and three touchdowns; 10 rushes for 25 yards and two touchdowns

Up next: The Huskies’ 2014 season comes to a close with a loss. The next event, National Signing Day, comes in early February before spring practice begins in March.