DeKALB — The football team was unsuccessful in its bid to take the Mallory Cup Saturday, falling 27-24 to the Miami University – Ohio RedHawks.
NIU took a 10-0 lead late in the second quarter but gave up three touchdowns on the next three Miami possessions and never regained the lead.
Losing while committing only one penalty and zero turnovers, Head Coach Thomas Hammock took the game as proof that room for mistakes is slim for the Huskies.
“We don’t have enough margin for error right now,” Hammock said. “We’re going to keep trying to play cleaner. We cleaned up our penalties, we didn’t have any turnovers, we’ve got to keep working. Today Miami made one more play than us.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Childers scored two rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown in relief of injured senior quarterback Ross Bowers. Bowers left the game in the second quarter following a head-first fall into the turf.
The defense kept the RedHawks’ running game in check all day, but was ultimately downed by first-year quarterback Brett Gabbet throwing for 273 yards and a touchdown.
Junior wide receiver Tyrice Richie and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Cole were both off of NIU’s starting lineups due to suspensions. Redshirt senior linebacker Antonio Jones-Davis also didn’t play Saturday due to injury. Nick Rattin, first-year walk-on linebacker, took over Jones-Davis’ spot and recorded eight total tackles. Hammock said injuries haven’t slowed his defense, which put pressure on the offense to produce more.
“We’ve been dealing with injuries, but we’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Hammock said. “The defense is playing well with the guys they have. We didn’t score enough to help our defense. We knew that touchdown before halftime was going to bite us.”
The game looked to be a defensive battle early on, with neither team reaching the opposing side of the field until late in the first quarter. Cole Tucker, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, made a one-handed catch to put NIU inside the Miami redzone.
John Richardson, redshirt first-year kicker, put NIU up 3-0 just before the end of the first. An 85-yard kick return by Miami senior running back Maruice Thomas gave the RedHawks their first possession in NIU territory, but they failed to score.
Bowers led the Huskies into Miami territory again late in the second quarter when he was tackled on a run. Bowers landed facemask first on the turf and needed assistance to get up and off the field.
Childers replaced Bowers and scored his first rushing touchdown two plays later to extend NIU’s lead. The RedHawks were able to put points on the board with a one-yard touchdown run from junior running back Jaylon Bester to make it 10-7 at halftime.
NIU and Miami traded the lead throughout the third quarter. Gabbert threw a pass over the NIU defense and found first-year wide receiver James Maye for a 45-yard touchdown to take the lead.
The Huskies responded with a three-yard touchdown run by Childers to reclaim the lead, only for Miami to take it back on another Bester rushing touchdown. The RedHawks led 21-17 at the end of the third.
Miami extended their lead to 27-17 on a pair of field goals by senior kicker Sam Sloman in the fourth quarter, giving NIU the ball back with 5:57 left.
Childers managed to kickstart an NIU drive with a pair of first down running gains. He threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tucker with 2:44 left, keeping NIU’s hopes alive.
The RedHawks were forced to punt the ball to NIU with 1:44 on the clock and one timeout remaining, in part due to a botched play that resulted in a loss of 13 yards.
Childers found Spencer Tears, redshirt senior wide receiver, for an eight-yard completion on second down, but Childers was sacked for a loss of seven on third down. A pass intended for Tucker on fourth down was incomplete, and Miami ran out the final 52 seconds.
NIU sees its record fall to 2-5 overall with a 1-2 record in Mid-American Conference play. Miami improves its conference record to 2-1 and holds a share of the East division lead with Kent State University and Ohio University.
Homecoming could spell a return to form for the Huskies as they face the winless University of Akron Zips.
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium.