“That was a good team win and closest to our most complete game all year in all three phases,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “Run the ball and stop the run, that’s who we are. Defensively, we made [Toledo quarterback Eli Peters] uncomfortable and that was the key. We’re ecstatic about the win. Our thing has been to keep getting better, and that’s what we’ve been able to do.”
NIU scored 28 of the final 34 points in the contest as the Huskies earned their fifth consecutive win over the Rockets in DeKalb and their seventh in the last nine overall meetings in the series. Sophomore Jack Heflin had 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks, as the Huskie defense totaled 11 tackles for loss and five sacks.
The Huskies led 10-9 with just under two minutes to play in the first half when Toledo punter Bailey Flint rolled to his right to punt the ball back to the Huskies on fourth and two. Junior Sutton Smith blocked the punt, picked it up and went 27 yards for a touchdown to give NIU a 17-9 lead at halftime.
“We were in ‘safe’, but Sutton did a nice job of reacting, getting the block and getting in for the score,” Carey said.
On its first possession of the second half, NIU marched 82 yards in 11 plays, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore Marcus Childers. Harbison, Jones and Childers all had runs of 10 yards or longer on the drive as the Huskies picked up all 82 yards on the ground, taking a 24-9 lead.
On the final drive of the third quarter, the Huskies needed just four plays to go 69 yards to extend their lead to 31-9. Harbison gained 33 yards on the first play of the drive, followed by runs of eight and five yards before Childers finished the drive with a 23-yard touchdown run.
Childers gained 58 yards on 10 carries while also throwing for 131 yards on 13-of-19 passing.
Harbison credited the guys up front for his production.
“It really was up to our o-line and tight ends, they were moving guys,” he said. “If you’ve got holes that big, I feel like anybody can run through holes like that. They played relentless. The passing game opened up the running game.”
Toledo snapped the string of 21 consecutive NIU points with a 1-yard touchdown run from Shakif Seymour with 3:27 to play in the game. The two-point conversion attempt by the Rockets failed as they trimmed the NIU lead to 31-15.
Any chance of a late comeback attempt by the Rockets was dashed when, on the first play of the ensuing drive, Jones went straight up the middle from 44 yards out for a touchdown to push the Huskie lead to 38-15.
Toledo (5-5, 3-3 MAC) opened the scoring with a 25-yard field goal from Jameson Vest six minutes into the contest. The Rockets had a short field after stopping the Huskies on fourth and one from the NIU 44-yard line and Toledo went 36 yards in nine plays to take a 3-0 lead.
NIU took advantage of a short field of its own after Smith sacked Toledo quarterback Eli Peters on third down to force a Rocket punt from their seven-yard line.
Following the punt, NIU took over on the Rocket 46 and needed just five plays to find the end zone. Childers connected with sophomore Corey Lersch on a crossing pattern for a 33-yard score as the Huskies took a 7-3 lead with 36 seconds to play in the opening quarter.
On its first drive of the second quarter, NIU started on its own seven and moved 62 yards to set up a 48-yard field goal from senior Andrew Gantz as the Huskies increased their lead to 10-3.
After NIU punted on its following drive, the Huskies forced the Rockets into a fourth-and-two, leading to the Smith punt block and score.
NIU will play its final home game of the season next Wednesday night, November 14, when the Huskies host the Miami RedHawks. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m., and will be televised on ESPNU.
Toledo returns to action Thursday, Nov. 15 at Kent Sttate (6 p.m. ET/CBSSN)