The win, CMU's second straight, lifted the Chippewas to 4-3, 2-1 in the MAC. The Huskies, who saw their 24-game regular-season MAC win streak come to an end, fell to 4-2 overall and 1-1 MAC.
"They are the class of this league," fifth-year CMU coach Dan Enos said. "They've been the best team in the league since I've been in it. It's a very difficult place to play. They're very, very well coached. They have outst anding players.
Rawls, who carried 40 times for 270 yards and two touchdowns, surpassed his career-high of 229 yards rushing, which he set last week in a 28-10 win over Ohio. His 40 carries matched his career-high, also set against Ohio. His two-week total is 80 carries, 499 yards, four TDs.
"We had a great week of preparation," said Rawls. "The offensive line was telling me, `We're grinding. We're just going to keep grinding it out, grinding it out.' I trust them, I trust this whole unit."
As has been Rawls' pattern all season, he got stronger as the game progressed. He ran for 194 yards on 24 carries in the second half as the Chippewas salted the game away. CMU held a near 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession and rolled up 30 first downs while holding NIU to 19.
"The only thing I try to do is show up, have a tremendous week of practice and have a huge impact in the game," Rawls said. "That's my role. I'm tough and our offensive line is tough and our receivers are tough. We're just out there playing football -- CMU football."
The Chippewas found themselves in a 7-0 hole before the game was two minutes old as NIU marched 71 yards in just five plays on the opening drive, scoring on a 20-yard pass from Drew Hare to Juwan Brescacin.
CMU, however, responded immediately. Rawls capped the Chippewas' first possession - an 86-yard, 10-play drive - with a 5-yard TD run, which tied it 7-7.
"I think it was very important for our momentum," Enos said. "You come out and you get punched in the mouth like that, it's how you respond. It was good that we scored on that drive to give our defense a chance to take a deep breath and settle down."
After forcing a punt, the Chippewas took over at their own 8-yard line and promptly marched 92 yards in eight plays to take a 14-7 lead on Rawls' 13-yard TD run. CMU's first two scoring drives were its longest of the season.
The Chippewas extended their lead to 21-7 when quarterback Cooper Rush tossed a 6-yard TD pass to Jesse Kroll midway through the second quarter.
Tyler Wendel converted a 24-yard field goal and Juwan Brescacin reached the end zone on a 14-yard pass from Drew Hare for NIU’s second half scoring
Hare completed 18 of 33 for 231 yards with two TDs and one interception. Brescacin (6 catches) and Da’Ron Brown (4 catches) each had 76 yards to lead NIU. Cameron Stingily (13 carries, 46 yards and Joel Bouagnon (10 carries, 40 yards) paced the Huskies rushing attack.
Brian Eavey kicked two second-half field goals - a 25-yarder and a 23-yarder - and Rush connected with tight end Ben McCord for a 13-yard scoring play in the third quarter.
Rush completed 20-of-31 pass attempts for 269 yards. Kroll made six catches for 97 yards.
The Chippewas finished with a season-high 552 yards in total offense against the MAC's top-ranked defense. NIU entered the game allowing an average of 354.8 yards per game.
CMU's defense, meanwhile, limited the Huskies to 341 yards, including 110 on the ground. The Huskies were averaging a MAC-best 178.2 rushing yards per game.
Linebacker Justin Cherocci led CMU's defense with 10 tackles, while defensive backs Brandon Greer and Kavon Frazier had eight apiece. Safety Tony Annese made his third interception of the season, and CMU's secondary was credited with seven pass breakups.
"As a defense we just try to get everybody playing physical, playing hard, and we did that the whole game," said Annese, who now has five career interceptions.
"We knew we were going to have to be physical," Enos said. "We knew we were going to have to try to run the ball. We knew that slowing down their offense was going to be a task. I'm just really happy for our players and our coaches today."
The Chippewas, Enos said, will take a second to savor the victory. The work begins almost immediately for next week, when they play host to Ball State.
"It's like I told my wife before the game today," he said. "It doesn't matter if we win or lose, on the bus ride home I'm going to take my IPad out and start watching Ball State film. You have no time to feel sorry for yourself (after a loss) or to be happy with yourself (after a win) because you've got to get prepared for the next game.
"Seems like the wins you can never enjoy them enough, and the losses just kind of hang with you. It's a great win for our football team, happy for our coaches and players, but we've got to get ready for next week."
(Courtesy of CMU Athletics/MRO Staff Edit)
(Photos courtesy of NIU Athletics)