Huskies take MAC West lead


Nathan Palmer(81) celebrates after one of his three touchdown receptions with teammates Scott Wedige (71) and Trevor Olson (62) in the game against Toldeo on Nov. 1.

By Tony Osborne

If you did not tune into the NIU-Toledo football game last night, you missed out what might have been the MAC game of the year.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of good games, but that was as good as it gets,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren in a press release.

With 20 seconds left in the fourth quarter, senior quarterback Chandler Harnish threw his sixth touchdown pass of the night to Perez Ashford to seal the 63-60 victory for Huskies (6-3, MAC 4-1) over the Rockets (5-4, MAC 4-2).

With its sixth win of the season, NIU is bowl eligible for the fourth season in a row.

The game was exciting from the first play to the final touchdown of the game.

To start the shootout, freshman kick returner Tommylee Lewis did not seem intimidated by playing at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, taking the opening kick off of the game 100 yards for a touchdown.

Lewis’ return was made possible by the textbook blocking all the way down the field, with Pat McAvoy and Marckie Hayes making key blocks near the end zone.

But Lewis would not stop there. The following kickoff, Lewis ran it 95 yards for yet another touchdown. Lewis’ two kickoff returns ranked as the longest two kick returns in Glass Bowl history, dating back to 1936.

“I have been waiting for Tommylee to break out like that,” Doeren said in a press release. “I didn’t expect him to take it to the house twice, though.”

Toledo would not be discouraged, marching its way through the NIU defense. The Rockets scored on their first two drives of the game on passes to wide receiver Eric Page.

That would not be the last time Page would reach the end zone, tacking on another three touchdowns throughout the game.

The Huskies’ offense did not step onto the field until half-way through the first quarter, but stalled after going three and out.

The first drive for the Huskies would come down to a fourth down and three situation, in which Nathan Palmer made the catch for the first down.

Two plays following the fourth down conversion, Harnish found Palmer in the end zone for a touchdown.

Both offenses were stagnant for a couple possessions, until NIU broke the stalemate with a 71-yard touchdown pass from Harnish to Palmer. It was just one of Palmer’s three touchdown catches on the night.

Following halftime, Toledo put its first drive together for a rushing touchdown by quarterback Austin Dantin.

Toledo would then take its first lead of the game by a score of 31-28, with only half of the final score points accounted for.

NIU’s defense may have faced the biggest play of the season in a fourth and two situation, making the stop for a turnover on downs.

Doeren opened up the playbook against the Rockets on a shovel pass from Harnish to senior wideout Willie Clark for a touchdown.

Harnish continued his stellar performance on a national stage, throwing for six total touchdowns and 265 yards through the air.

“You could see it in warm-ups, Chandler was going to do whatever it took today,” Doeren said in a press release. “I’ll be lucky to ever coach another one like him.”

Following Page’s fifth touchdown catch, a short kickoff led to a muffed return, resulting in a Toledo recovery. Toledo would later score off of the fumble recovery, but its efforts would fall short.

With four minutes left in the game, it was evident that which ever team had the ball last with enough time would win.

The Huskies proved they would be the victors, holding out for the last three plays of the game with lock down prevent defense.

In a game that featured 123 total points and 1,117 total yards combined, the Huskies took control of the MAC West.

With NIU in the drivers seat, the pressure is on the rest of the conference to keep pace with it.