By EVAN MEYER
COLUMBUS, OHIO – The Northern Illinois Huskies came into Ohio Stadium Saturday afternoon as a 30-point underdog against the defending National Champion and top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
As they say, however, “That’s why you play the games.”
The Huskies more than held their own against the Buckeyes, who scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter and held on for a 20-13 victory before 104,095 fans -- almost all of them breathing a collective sigh of relief at the final whistle.
(CLICK READ MORE TO CONTINUE . . . )
“The bottom line today was they made more plays than we did.” NIU head coach Ron Carey said. “We had opportunities. We didn’t make as many (big plays). They did and that is why they won the football game.”
Ohio State (3-0) extended its winning streak to 16 games, longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and raised its lifetime mark against Mid-American Conference opposition to 31-1.
The game started in a downpour and on the third offensive play of the game, sophomore CB Shawon Lurry intercepted a pass from OSU QB Cardale Jones, giving NIU the ball on the Ohio State 22.
The Huskies converted the turnover into a touchdown as junior Argenos Turner took the ball on an end around and made it to the corner of the end zone for a 7-0 Huskies lead a little over two minutes into the game.
NIU soon had a chance to add to its lead following another OSU miscue. On the Bucks second offensive possession, Boomer Mays forced an Ezequiel Elliott fumble and junior LB Sean Polliard recovered it.
The Huskies could not covert this turnover into points, however, as QB Drew Hare threw an interception into the hands of OSU senior DT Adolphus Washington.
The Buckeyes took over on the Huskies 48 and moved the ball to the 14, where the drive stalled. They managed to get three points when senior PK Jack Willoughby connected on a 31-yard field goal to slice the NIU lead to 7-3.
As the first quarter moved into the second, Lurry came up with his second interception of Jones who threw the ball right to him at OSU 41 and returned it to the 29. Along with his two picks, Lurry had two solo tackles and two pass breakups.
Hare and the offense converted the interception into points as they reached the OSU 21 on a three-and-out, sophomore PK Christian Hagan converted a 38-yard field goal to regain their seven point advantage at 10-3.
The OSU offense started to click and tied the score 10-10 when Barrett found Michael Thomas, who managed to get one foot down in the left side of the end zone. The teams went into halftime tied.
The Buckeyes took the lead for good as on their first possession of the third quarter. They moved from their own 20 to the NIU seven before the Huskies defense held. Willoughby came on to hit his second field goal, this one from 24-yards, for a 13-10 lead.
From that point on, Ohio State started to take control of the game both offensively and defensively. OSU throttled the Huskies offense, holding it to just 98 total yards in the second half.
The key play in the game came late in the third quarter. NIU had a first down at its own 45. Hare passed toward the left flat, but it was intercepted by sophomore LB Darron Lee, who jumped the route and simply ripped the ball out of the hands of RB Mallik Todd. Lee then raced 41 yards for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.
In the final period, the Huskies most effective drive of the second half netted three points, as they moved the ball from their own 45 to the OSU four-yard line before a penalty and an incomplete pass ended the drive. Hagan came on for his second three-pointer, this one a 31-yarder to make the score 20-13.
The Huskies defense came up big on the next two OSU possessions forcing a three-and -out on the first and getting a turnover on the second. Senior FS Marlon Moore forced a Curtis Samuel fumble and sophomore LB Bobby Jones IV recovered on the Huskies 25.
Both times, the OSU defense forced three-and-outs, squashing any hopes of tying the game.
One of the keys to the contest was OSU holding the Huskies offense, which was averaging 453 yards in wins over Nevada-Las Vegas and Murray State, to just 190 yards. It was the first time NIU had been held under 200 yards since 1998 at Tennessee.
Hare was just 14-of-31 for 80 yards with the two interceptions and four sacks. The big play man in the NIU passing game, Kenny Golliday, had just three catches for 19 yards.
“We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game, and we didn’t. A loss is a loss,” Carey said.
Saturday was the first of three road games for NIU, who will head to Boston College before opening MAC play at Central Michigan.