DeKALB, Ill. – Cooper Rush hit Tyler Conklin with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the third overtime Saturday as Central Michigan pulled out a 34-28 victory over Northern Illinois at Huskie Stadium.
The win, CMU’s second straight, lifted the Chippewas to 5-2 overall, 2-1 MAC. It was the Chippewas third straight victory over NIU, the six-time defending MAC West champion. The Huskies are now 1-6, 1-2.
“The players fought their tails off today,” CMU coach John Bonamego said. “At times this one . . .
“Going on the road like this and getting a win like this, it’s important and it’s definitely not easy to do.”
The Chippewas overcame three turnovers and twice had chances to win it with field goals. Brian Eavey’s 33-yard attempt with 16 seconds left in regulation was partially blocked and short; his 35-yard try in the first overtime was wide left.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second overtime. Rush hit Corey Willis for a 25-yard touchdown, then NIU scored on a 13-yard Anthony Maddie-to-Joel Bouagnon pass to tie it at 28-28 and send it to the third OT.
NIU went on offense first in the third overtime. On fourth down, Christian Hagan’s 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by defensive tackle Kelby Latta.
The Chippewas took over at the 25 and on first down, Rush found Conklin, a 6-foot-4 junior tight end, on a post route. Conklin leapt and secured the ball while falling into the end zone to give CMU its first OT victory in a MAC game since 2008.
“It’s a play we’ve been practicing all week,” Conklin said. “I saw the safety jump outside a little bit; it was a choice route and I took him to the middle and Cooper threw a great ball.”
Rush completed 19 of 35 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns against two interceptions.
The Chipppewas rushed for 230 yards, their second-highest total of the season.Devon Spalding ran for 124 yards and Jahray Hayes finished with 105. Both carried 22 times and each scored a touchdown.
“Those guys up front today just really brought it,” Rush of the Chippewa offensive line, which surrendered two sacks – both in the first half -- after allowing a combined 13 in CMU’s previous two games. “Hats off to them, they deserve that. They’ve been working their butt off. I’m glad to see they came out and played like that.”