DeKALB — The football team saw its postseason hopes shatter Tuesday in a 45-17 blowout loss to Eastern Michigan University.
With the loss, NIU is eliminated from Mid-American Conference title contention and will fall short of the 6-6 record necessary to become bowl eligible.
Head Coach Thomas Hammock said EMU attacked the Huskies’ weak points, which were the result of injuries on both sides of the ball.
“Our kids went out there and battled,” Hammock said. “At this point in the season, we just want to go out on a good performance for our seniors.”
Senior quarterback Mike Glass III of EMU torched the Huskies’ defense, going 20-for-24, passing for 235 yards and three touchdowns. Hammock pinned the defense’s inability to pressure Glass as how the quarterback performed so well.
“Whenever you’re defending the pass, it starts with the pass rush,” Hammock said. “He did a great job extending plays. We know he could extend plays with his feet, and it puts more stress on your corners and safeties. We have to find a way to generate more pressure and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.”
Mykelti Williams, redshirt senior safety, said the secondary was also responsible for having not played its style of defense well.
“I think that us on the back end didn’t play our best brand of football, and I take full responsibility for that,” Williams said. “They made some plays and that happens. It’s all about how you come out and respond to the next play.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Childers struggled in his third start of the year, turning the ball over four times, including two second-half interceptions. Hammock said Childers struggled in part due to the circumstances of trying to comeback from a large deficit.
“When you’re down a couple of scores and you have to throw it, they’re going to get back in coverage,” Hammock said. “[Childers] was trying to make some plays for the team, and [EMU] made some good plays on the ball. There’s nothing specific that he did wrong.”
Childers started in place of senior quarterback Ross Bowers, whom Hammock confirmed was back under concussion protocol for the second time this year.
The Huskies’ offense was able to end the night on a high note with Tre Harbison, redshirt junior running back, rushing for 121 yards and reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the second season in a row.
NIU gave up 24 points in the third quarter that ultimately put the game and title hopes out of reach. Hammock said he talked to his team before the fourth quarter on the sideline about growing from tough times and situations.
“Things happen, and this is life,” Hammock said. “There’s going to be tough times. Tough times don’t last, tough people do. Obviously we’re coaches and mentors, and we want to teach them life lessons. Things aren’t always going to go your way. When they don’t, how are you going to respond?”
Glass picked up a goal-line rushing touchdown to take a 7-0 lead at the end of the first. After getting the opening touchdown on the ground, Glass beat the Huskies’ defense in the air with a 36-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Arthur Jackson III.
The Huskies struggled on their first three drives. Childers threw an interception before the Eagles fumbled it, leading to Childers recovering the ball. Hammock rode out Harbison on the Huskies’ first drive of the second quarter to the tone of 35 yards on seven carries.
Childers finished the drive himself with an eight-yard rush for a touchdown, making the score 14-7 going into the locker room at halftime.
On their opening drive of the second half, the Eagles found the end zone on an eight-yard option run by senior running back Shaq Vann. Vann ended the night with 101 rushing yards.
Childers set up the Huskies inside the red zone with a 38-yard run, but three straight incompletions meant settling for a 34-yard field goal by first-year kicker John Richardson.
EMU responded with a touchdown just 22 seconds and two plays later. After a 15-yard penalty was tacked on the end of a Vann run, Glass threw a 36-yard pass to senior wide receiver Line Latu for a touchdown.
Down 28-10 midway through the third, desperation started to set in for Childers and the NIU offense. The pressure resulted in a Childers fumble, recovered by the Eagles’ defense, his first of three straight possessions ending in turnovers.
After the Eagles extended their lead on a field goal, Childers threw his second interception to senior cornerback Brody Hoying.
EMU turned the interception into a touchdown catch by Jackson. It was originally called incomplete by officials, but the call was overturned with a video replay showing Jackson had caught the ball with one hand with a foot inbound at the goal line.
In the fourth quarter, Childers threw his third interception of the day to EMU senior safety Vince Calhoun, which was returned 45-yards into NIU territory.
Sophomore quarterback Jarius Grissom capitalized with a three-yard touchdown run for the Eagles. Grissom filtered in and out of the game, rushing for 44 yards on 4 carries.
NIU ended the game by stopping the 31-point scoring run. Childers finished a near nine-minute drive by throwing a touchdown pass to Daniel Crawford, redshirt senior tight end, for the 45-17 final.
The loss means NIU falls to 4-7 overall while EMU clinches bowl eligibility with a 6-5 record.
The Huskies will look to close their season by playing spoiler to conference champion hopefuls, the Western Michigan University Broncos.
Kickoff for the game comes at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Huskie Stadium with the game broadcasting live on ESPNU.