KENT, Ohio Northern Illinois used a 21-point outburst in the third quarter to earn its sixth win of the 2008 season with a 42-14 victory over Kent State on a snowy night in Kent, Ohio.
The Huskies prevailed in the snow to become bowl eligible
The win clinched at least a .500 season for the Huskies, who won just two games a year ago, and NIU won its fifth Mid-American Conference game of the year after claiming just one league victory in 2007. Northern Illinois recorded a perfect 3-0 mark versus MAC East teams in 2008. Kent State dropped to 3-8, 2-5.
On a night made for defense, Northern Illinois (6-5, 5-3) forced four Kent State fumbles and recovered three, one of which senior defensive end Craig Rusch picked up and returned for a 60-yard touchdown to give the Huskies a 28-7 lead mid-way through the third period. It was Ruschs first career touchdown and the first fumble return score for NIU since the 2007 Idaho game.
The Huskies limited Kent States potent offense, which had averaged over 40 points per game in its last three outings, to 253 yards, and just 127 on the ground. Defensive end Larry English broke the Northern Illinois career sack record with two in the contest to up his career number to 31.5. His second sack forced the fumble which Rusch recovered for the score.
Meanwhile the Northern Illinois offense picked up where it had left off in the second half of last weeks overtime game versus Central Michigan, effectively combining the running of quarterback Chandler Harnish and backs Chad Spann and Ricky Crider, with a surprisingly efficient passing attack, given the weather conditions.
To NIU head coach Jerry Kill, the biggest positive for the offense came in its number of turnovers zero.
Turnovers had been a problem for us in the last two games, so it is remarkable for us to come out of this game, in these conditions, without a turnover, Kill said. That is by far the best thing we did on offense tonight was hold onto the football.
Harnish finished the game with 117 rushing yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns, on runs of three and 31 yards. He completed 12-of-19 passes for 173 yards and two passing scores, hitting tight end Reed Cunningham and Matt Simon with touchdown scoring throws.
For his part, the redshirt freshman enjoyed his time in the snow.
I thought it was a blast, Harnish said. Ive never played in snow. It was a fun experience. We had to focus on each snap and make sure the running back got the ball on the handoff. We were playing football and we were executing, which we havent done the last couple of games.
Leading 14-0 on the strength of a Harnish to Cunningham two-yard pass and Harnishs first touchdown run, Kent State got on the board before halftime as they scored on Leneric Muldrows five-yard run on a fake field goal.
The Huskies extended the lead to 21-7 in the third quarter when Harnish escaped a tackler and broke free down the right sideline for a 31-yard touchdown scamper to complete a seven-play, 77-yard drive.
Three plays later, English and Rusch combined on the sack and fumble return to give Northern Illinois a 28-7 lead. The sack was one of four on the night for the NIU defense.
The Golden Flashes got their final score on their next possession, but the Huskie offense answered again. With the yard lines completely obscured as a constant snow fell in the second half, Chad Spann scored on a 26-yard run. Spann ran for 48 yards on five carries on the night while Crider carried 11 times for 49 yards.
Northern Illinois finished with 397 yards of total offense and averaged 6.2 yards per play on the game. The Huskies converted seven-of-13 third downs.
Courtesy Northern Illinois Athletic Communications