DeKALB, Ill. – Senior Aregeros Turner made sure Northern Illinois University’s 110th Homecoming game started off on the right note with a 97-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff, and the Huskie defense picked off four passes in the first half as NIU recorded a 44-7 Homecoming victory over Buffalo Saturday at Huskie Stadium.
Turner took the kickoff at the three, saw a hole opened by his blockers at the 20 and was gone, giving NIU, a team that . . .
“Similar to our team, that group has been close and today it popped,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey of the return team. “His return sparked our whole team.”
NIU’s four interceptions on defense all came in the first half as the Huskies built a 30-7 halftime lead. Junior Mayomi Olootu recorded a pair of interceptions, redshirt freshman Trequan Smith picked off a pass for the second straight game, and senior linebacker Jamaal Payton intercepted the first pass of his career in his 47th career game.
Payton’s interception came on Buffalo’s first possession and set the tone for the Huskies’ best defensive effort of the season. Although the NIU offense failed to capitalize when Joel Bouagnon came up short on fourth and two from the 29, Olootu ended Buffalo’s subsequent possession with the first of his two picks on the day.
“Defense is the story of the game,” Carey said. “That was a fine effort by our defense today. When you get four picks, that is a big thing.”
NIU turned Olootu’s first interception into three points as Christian Hagan converted a 25-yard field goal with 6:14 to play in the first quarter, giving the Huskies a 10-0 lead.
Buffalo responded on the first play of the second quarter when Jordan Johnson rushed 29 yards for a score to complete a seven-play, 90-yard drive. Adam Mitcheson’s PAT pulled the Bulls within three at the 14:53 mark.
It was the closest Buffalo would get as NIU – or specifically quarterback Anthony Maddie - scored three more times before halftime to build a 30-7 lead.
After NIU’s Jake Ambrose hit a 78-yard punt, the longest by a Huskie punter since 1941, Buffalo’s next drive was stopped by Smith’s interception. From the Buffalo 41, NIU took just five plays to score with Maddie recording the first of his four rushing touchdowns on the day to put the Huskies up 17-7.
Following a Buffalo three-and-out, Maddie and the Huskies went to work again. Maddie hit running back Joel Bouagnon on a 37-yard completion on the wheel route and two plays later the quarterback cut down the right sideline for a 16-yard score and a 24-7 NIU lead.
NIU’s final interception of the game was the back-breaker for the Bulls. With 3:26 to play in the first half, Buffalo drove from its 24-yard line to the NIU 10, but UB quarterback Tyree Jackson’s pass was picked off by Olootu in the end zone. The Huskies then drove 80 yards in just 52 seconds and five plays, with Maddie taking it in for the final three yards, for a 30-7 NIU lead after the snap was muffed.
“There are still some things to clean up that we need to get better,” Carey said. “At halftime we talked about last year’s game at Buffalo when they came back on us. Obviously we’re happy with today’s win. We are a better team than we were three-four weeks ago. We’re going to keep working, we have to keep getting better.”
The Huskie defense pitched a shutout in the second half, its first shutout half since the Eastern Michigan game a year ago. Buffalo converted just one of its 12 third down tries in the game and gained just 135 rushing yards.
NIU added a pair of touchdowns as Maddie hit Kenny Golladay, who finished with seven catches for 96 yards, with a 22-yard pass for a score in the third quarter. Golladay made a one-handed catch while falling to the ground in the corner of the end zone to add another to his long highlight reel of spectacular catches this year.
Maddie finished the scoring with a 23-yard “Jordan Lynch-esque” touchdown run to complete a 10-play, 95-yard drive. He scored four rushing touchdowns in the game as part of a 125-yard rushing day. He also completed 16-of-29 passes for 199 yards and a score.
Next: Buffalo hosts Akron Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET). Northern Illinois is home against Bowling Green (7 p.m. ET).