DeKALB, Ill. Dan LeFevours 8-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter at Northern Illinois Wednesday night staked the Chippewas to what appeared to be an insurmountable 30-6 lead.
CMU QB Dan LeFevour had 310 yards of offense and four TD's
After all, to that point, CMU had out-gained the host Huskies by a margin of 416-121, and a physical Chippewa defense had limited NIU to a pair of Mike Salerno field goals in two and a half quarters of action.
Over the final 16:25 of regulation, however, Northern Illinois mounted a frantic rally that saw it put three touchdowns on the board, convert a key two-point conversion and boot a game-tying field goal with just 19 seconds remaining that sent the contest to overtime.
In the extra session, however, Josh Gordy intercepted NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish and Andrew Aguila drilled a 40-yard field goal to lift the Chippewas to a 33-30 win in a pivotal Mid-American Conference contest.
The win gives CMU (8-2 overall, 6-0 MAC) an opportunity to clinch its third consecutive MAC West Division title at home next Wednesday against No. 14 Ball State.
CMU showed no rust from an 11-day break since its 37-34 win at Indiana on Nov. 1.
The offense produced points on four of its six first-half possessions, while the defense forced four punts and an interception in the first half and allowed NIU to put just a field goal on the scoreboard.
The Huskies (5-5, 4-3 MAC) went three-and-out on their opening possession, and CMU moved to the NIU 16-yard line before settling for a 33-yard Aguila field goal.
CMU took over from its own 11-yard lnie following a 50-yard Andy Dittbenner punt with 1:31 left in the first quarter but needed just nine plays to cover the 89 yards.
On second-and-5 from the NIU 25-yard line, LeFevour hit Antonio Brown down the middle of the field with a perfectly thrown pass that Brown caught in stride on his back shoulder in front of an NIU defender. Aguilas point-after gave CMU a 10-0 lead just more than a minute into the second quarter.
LeFevour scrambled for 12 yards on third-and-12 to extend the scoring drive; CMU was 9-for-15 on third down in the game, compared to NIUs 3-for-15.
Harnish was hit as he threw on third-and-four following Sneeds score, and CMUs Sam Williams made a diving interception of the deflected pass. Just two plays later Ontario Sneed turned a screen pass into a 25-yard touchdown, and another Aguila PAT extended CMUs lead to 17-0 with 12:10 still remaining in the second quarter.
Ricky Crider returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for the Huskies and a facemasking penalty set up the NIU offense at the 10-yard line. A false start penalty and a sack, however, moved the Huskies back to the 22, and Salerno converted a 39-yard field goal attempt to get NIU on the scoreboard.
CMU bumped its lead to 23-3 when LeFevour scored on a 1-yard run just 40 seconds before halftime.
The Chippewas converted a pair of third downs on the drive, as LeFevour ran for 13 yards on third-and-5 from the NIU 38-yard line and hit Bryan Anderson for 17 yards on third-and-14 from the NIU 29-yard line. Aguilas point-after, however, deflected off the right upright and was no good.
Northern Illinois dug into its bag of tricks to open the second half and began cutting into the CMU lead.
The Huskies recovered an onsides kick to open the half, then picked up 20 yards on a fake punt to move the ball to the CMU 27-yard line. The drive stalled at the 14-yard line however, and Salerno connected on a 31-yard field goal to make it 23-6.
CMU responded with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in LeFevours 8-yard touchdown run. The scoring drive featured one third-down conversion a 16-yard throw to Anderson on third-and-5 and a fourth-down conversion a 2-yard LeFevour run on fourth-and-1 from the NIU 7-yard line.
NIU then produced touchdowns on three straight possessions to get back into the contest.
Harnish answered LeFevours score with a 2-yard touchdown run, then threw a two-point pass to Britt Davis to cut the CMU lead to 30-14.
The Huskies recovered another onsides kick, and a drive that included a third-and-15 conversion was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Chad Spann that trimmed the lead to 10 points, 30-20, with 13:44 left in regulation.
CMU punted on its next possession, and Harnish completed passes of 39 yards to Marcus Perez, 23 yards to Matt Simon and 11 yards to Reed Cunningham to set up a 3-yard Spann touchdown run. Salernos point-after left the Huskies trailing by just three points, 30-27, with 7:38 remaining.
A pair of third-down conversions helped the Chippewas drain more than five minutes off the clock on the ensuing possession, but CMU was forced to punt the ball back to NIU with 2:24 left.
Forced to start from their own 20, the Huskies moved to the CMU 8-yard line before Salernos third field goal evened the score at 30-30 with 19 seconds left. The key play on NIUs final scoring drive was a 30-yard completion from Harnish to Simon on fourth-and-18 from the NIU 38-yard line with 48 seconds left.
CMU won the overtime coin toss and chose to play defense first.
On second down, Gordy stepped in front of a Harnish pass in the end zone for his first interception of the season.
Three LeFevour rushes centered the ball for Aguila, who drilled the 40-yard kick to keep CMU unbeaten in the MAC.
LeFevour finished 19-of-26 passing for 189 yards and two scores. He ran the ball 29 times for 121 yards and two more touchdowns. It was his eighth career 100-yard rushing day.
Sneed added 60 rushing yards on 11 carries, and CMU posted a season-high 241 rushing yards as a team. Seven different Chippewas caught passes, with Brown making a game-high seven catches for 50 yards and a score.
Defensively, Nick Bellore finished with a team-high 12 tackles, while Matt Berning, Eric Fraser and Kirkston Edwards were credited with seven stops apiece. Bellore, the MACs leading tackler, has made at least 12 stops in each of the last four games.
Harnish completed 18-of-36 passes for 288 yards for NIU. He also was the Huskies leading rusher with 31 yards on 17 carries. Simon caught six passes for 131 yards.