BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Northern Illinois University Huskies turned a 28-3 halftime lead into a 41-30 Mid-American Conference win over Buffalo Wednesday night. NIU won its fifth straight game, extended its winning streak in November games to 21 and claimed its 17th straight win over a MAC East opponent in the regular season.
Despite giving up 27 second-half points, NIU Head Coach Rod Carey was pleased with the victory and with the play of first-time starter and redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Graham.
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WIN SETS UP HUGE SHOWDOWN
NIU improved to 7-3, 5-1 in the MAC with the win and is tied for the lead in the MAC West Division with Toledo and Western Michigan. The Huskies play host to the Broncos next Wednesday night, Nov. 18, at Huskie Stadium.
Graham completed 15-of-24 passes for 190 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw an interception that was returned for 68 yards for a Buffalo touchdown in the fourth quarter. All of his completions went to either Kenny Golladay, who caught six passes for 141 yards and both touchdowns, or Aregeros Turner, whose nine catches went for 49 yards.
HUSKIES RUN GAME
Turner also gained 36 yards on four carries to complement the running of NIU workhorse back Joel Bouagnon. Bouagnon, who entered the game as the league’s leading rusher and scorer, showed why with a career-best 156 yards on 28 carries and a pair of rushing scores. He became the first MAC rusher to go over 1,000 yards on the season while recording his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season.
The Huskie defense played one of its best halves of the season to start the game and made the going especially tough for Buffalo runners. The Bulls totaled just 28 rushing yards on 14 carries in the half. The Huskies intercepted three passes in the game to up their season total to 17, including two in the first half.
BULL STRIKE FIRST
Buffalo took a 3-0 lead to start the game with an eight-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Adam Mitcheson. After an exchange of punts, NIU put together its first scoring drive of the game. The first 10 plays of the 11-yard drive were rushes as the Huskies advanced to the Buffalo 15-yard line. Graham then hit Golladay on a slant across the middle for the touchdown and a 7-3 Huskie lead.
On the ensuing possession, Buffalo drove to the NIU 24-yard line, where Mitcheson missed a 41-yard field goal. Four plays later, NIU extended its lead to 14-3 when Bouagnon ran 58 yards down the sideline for his longest career touchdown run.
The Huskie defense overcame a snafu by the NIU punter that resulted in a minus-seven yard punt when Marlon Moore picked off his first pass of the season two plays later. Graham then led NIU on a 11-play, 77-yard drive for a score. Bouagnon scored from one yard out as he and Turner carried the load.
NIU extended its lead with an efficient 3:14 drive at the end of the first half. After Buffalo kicker Adam Mitcheson missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, Graham led the Huskies on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring jaunt. The big play was a 37-yard completion from the freshman to Golladay to the 12-yard line. He hit Golladay again for a nine-yard pickup and three plays later, Jordan Huff ran it in from one-yard out for the score.
Graham was sacked and fumbled to end the first drive of the second half and Buffalo took advantage as quarterback Joe Licata hit Marcus McGill for a 16-yard score and UB’s first touchdown. A 58-yard kickoff return by Turner on the kickoff led to a 22-yard Christian Hagan field goal after the Huskies’ drive stalled at the six-yard line.
Buffalo came back with a 47-yard run by Jordan Johnson for a score to narrow the Huskies’ lead to 31-16 with 1:44 to play in the third quarter. The lead was trimmed to just eight points when Graham was intercepted by Cameron Lewis on a fourth-and-three play. Lewis returned the ball 68 yards for a touchdown and the PAT made the score 31-23, NIU with 13:27 to play.
Graham responded in a big way, hitting a wide open Kenny Golladay for a 68-yard touchdown on the second play of the drive and NIU went ahead 38-23.
The Bulls would not go away, scoring two possessions later on a 35-yard pass from Licata to Collin Lisa to close the gap to eight again, before NIU’s Hagan came through with a 47-yard three with 2:50 to play, extending the lead back to 11. Brandon Mayes picked off Licata to put an end to any final threat, and the game.
-- Buffalo quarterback Joe Licata completed 31 of 47 for a season high 354 yards, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. The performance enabled Licata to pass Drew willey as UB’s career leader in passing yards (8,936 yards). He ranks ninth among MAC QBs in career touchdown passes.
-- Matt Weiser had a team-high eight catches for 59 yards, while Ron Willoughby registered 101 yards on six receptions.
-- Senior linebacker Nick Gilbo collected a career-high 19 tackles against NIU.
Ryan Williamson and Okezie Alozie also had career highs with 16 and 14 stops, respectively.
-- LICATA ON THE BULLS SECOND HALF OFFENSE: "We had a lot of quick game throws, got our running game going a little bit, did a little bit of that wildcat stuff. Jordan Johnson made a great run down the sideline to score. I think our offensive line did a great job especially in second half with giving me time, finding some holes for Anthony and Jordan.
-- GILBO ON THE HUSKIES HURRY UP OFFENSE: "They were really quick, I mean they went really fast, but we had to get down and play ball and that's what we didn't do in the first half we just didn't do it effectively enough. I don't know if they watched film or what they did they just went really fast, they knew we looked at the sidelines and looked down to our wrists so props to them."
(Courtesy of UB and NIU Athletics)