SAN DIEGO – The Northern Illinois Huskies struck out on their third swing at a San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl victory Wednesday, falling to Boise State 55-7 in the 11th edition of the postseason game played at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
NIU also lost the 2006 and 2013 versions of the game, to TCU and Utah State, respectively. Wednesday’s game was more reminiscent of the 2006 game, which the Huskies dropped by a 37-7 score to TCU, than the 2013 contest, a 21-14 loss to Utah State, but the result was the same. NIU lost its fourth consecutive postseason bowl game and ended the 2015 season with a record of 8-6. Boise State improved to 9-4 with the win.
“You’ve got to give credit to Boise State,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “They played well, we didn’t. We couldn’t . . .
Freshman quarterback Ryan Graham, in his first game back since injuring his knee Nov. 24 versus Ohio, completed 7 of 21 passes for 38 yards as the Boise State defense kept the Huskie offense in check throughout the game. NIU finished with negative five rushing yards on 30 carries after Graham was sacked six times. The Huskies were also hurt by three first-half fumbles, which led to 17 Boise State points.
NIU junior Aregeros Turner scored the Huskies’ lone touchdown on a 96-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. Turner juked past at least four Boise State defenders, getting into the clear at the 45-yard line and then outran everyone to the end zone. Turner’s kickoff return TD was his second of the season, the longest of his career and the sixth-longest in school history.
Turner’s big moment was also the first kickoff return score by an NIU player in modern day bowl history and gave him the individual FBS lead in kickoff return yards this season. Turner finished the season with 1,181 kickoff return yards on 45 attempts this year, both NIU school records.
NIU trailed 24-7 after Turner’s return in the second quarter and had an opportunity to close the gap further after a Boise State fumble was recovered by Austin Smaha at the Broncos 31-yard line on the next possession. Aided by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, the Huskies drove to the Boise State 16 before Graham was sacked and his fumble was recovered by BSU’s Tyler Gray.
“You’re going to have a hard time coming back on a team like that,” Carey said. “I thought we had a shot after the return when we got the turnover but couldn’t convert it.”
From there, the Broncos drove 60 yards in eight plays to take a 31-7 lead that would stand up until halftime. Boise quarterback Brett Rypien connected with Chaz Anderson on the 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:51 left in the half.
Rypien completed 29 of 39 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns to lead Boise State while star running back Jeremy McNichols ran for 93 yards on 19 carries for the Broncos. Boise State gained 654 yards of total offense and the Broncos’ 55 points were the most given up by the Huskies since NIU defeated Toledo 63-60 on Nov. 1, 2011.
Boise State took a 21-0 lead after the first quarter as the Broncos collected yards in chunks, catching the Huskies in some defensive mismatches. Boise State took just three plays to score on the opening drive of the game. Rypien hit McNichols on a 39-yard completion to the NIU 29 and one play later, McNichols burst free up the middle untouched for a 29-yard score.
NIU drove from its 25 to the Ball State 26-yard line on its first possession, with Graham effectively mixing the run and pass. But on third and six from the 26, the snap was fumbled and Boise State recovered on its own 33-yard line.
From there, Rypien had back-to-back 23-yard completions to put the Broncos on the NIU 21-yard line. Three plays later, he hit McNichols from four yards out for the BSU score and a 14-0 lead with 7:38 to play in the first quarter.
After NIU went three-and-out on its next possession, Boise State drove 53 yards in seven plays with McNichols scoring his third touchdown of the day, this time on a one-yard run, to put the Broncos up 21-0.
The Huskies’ fortunes did not improve in the second half as defenders Perez Ford, Albert Smalls and Marlon Moore left the game due to injury. Boise State added 10 points in the third quarter and scored 14 points in the fourth while the Huskies were forced to punt on all six of their drives.
Boise State held the ball for 43:13 in the game to just 16:47 for the Huskies, and converted on nine-of-15 third downs compared to a 1-of-12 performance by NIU.
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)