“Hats off to Western (Illinois), they played a great game and they deserved to win,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey. “They made one or two more plays than us. We got off to a horrendous start again and . . .
Western Illinois (3-0) led 28-7 entering the fourth quarter until a 27-yard field goal from junior Christian Hagan in the first minute of the final quarter trimmed the Leatherneck lead to 28-10.
Huff rushed for 130 yards on nine carries in the contest to lead NIU, which had its best rushing game of the season with 301 yards.
Following another three-and-out by Western Illinois, NIU scored again to trim the Leatherneck lead to just five. Maddie picked up 11 yards on third-and-seven to give the Huskies a first down and move NIU across midfield. Two plays later, Maddie found Golladay for 39 yards and a touchdown as the Huskies cut the WIU lead to 28-23 with 8:15 remaining.
Maddie was 11-of-17 passing off the bench for 142 yards and a touchdown in his best game as a Huskie; Golladay had five receptions for 113 yards and a score.
“We’ll get in the film room and decide more, but I saw a guy who took command of our team, I think we all saw that,” Carey said of Maddie. “He operated faster, processed faster, made plays. He took some chances, and we made plays for him. I was really happy with him coming in, with limited reps during the week, and he gave us a shot in that game.”
NIU (0-4) had two more opportunities inside the Western Illinois 25-yard line, but turned the ball over on downs on both occasions. With just under three minutes left, Maddie came up just shy of a first down on a rushing attempt on fourth-and-two. NIU’s final opportunity came with less than a minute remaining but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-three at the Western Illinois nine-yard line sealed the win for the Leathernecks.
Western Illinois scored first as Steve McShane capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run up the middle to give the Leathernecks a 7-0 lead with 6:52 to play in the first quarter.
After forcing a Huskie punt, Western Illinois scored again to take a 14-0 lead with one minute to play in the first quarter. On third-and-five from near midfield, Sean McGuire found Joey Borsellino for six yards to keep the drive alive to the NIU 40. On the next play McGuire connected with Borsellino again, this time for 37 yards to the Huskie three. Jamie Gilmore scored for the Leathernecks from a yard out three plays later to give Western Illinois a 14-point lead.
McGuire finished the afternoon 21-of-37 for 315 yards and a touchdown for Western Illinois.
NIU answered early in the second quarter to cut the Western Illinois lead to 14-7. Ryan Graham found junior Shane Wimann on fourth-and-goal from the two as the Huskies cut the WIU lead in half. The NIU drive went 75 yards in 10 plays; Graham connected with junior Christian Blake for 22 yards on the first play of the drive and senior Joel Bouagnon had a 21-yard carry to the Western Illinois six to setup the Huskie score.
Western Illinois scored on the first possession of the second half to take a 21-7 lead. On fourth-and-three from the NIU 38, McGuire hit Borsellino, who broke away from a Huskie defender and took the ball to the NIU one. On the next play, McGuire scored to give the Leathernecks a 14-point lead with 11:18 remaining in the third quarter.
Borsellino recorded nine catches for 148 yards in the contest for Western Illinois.
A Huskie turnover resulted in a short field for Western Illinois that the Leathernecks converted into points. Steve Mercado picked off a deflected Graham pass to give WIU the ball at the Huskie 23-yard line. McGuire connected with Isaiah Lesure from three yards out on the fifth play of the drive as the Leathernecks took a 28-7 lead midway through the third quarter, a lead they would maintain early into the fourth.
NIU will open Mid-American Conference play next Saturday, Oct. 1, as the Huskies travel to Muncie, Ind., to take on Ball State. Game time against the Cardinals is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. CT, and the contest will be shown live on the American Sports Network and ESPN3.
(Courtesy of NIU Athletics)