KENT, OHIO – Senior Joel Bouganon rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns as the Northern Illinois Huskies pulled away from the Kent State Golden Flashes early in the fourth quarter and posted a 31-21 victory in the season finale for both teams Friday afternoon at Dix Stadium.
The victory completed an astonishing turnaround for Northern Illinois (5-7, 5-3 MAC). After starting the season at 0-4, the Huskies won four of their last five games.
"There was a lot of . . .
“We fight for as long as we can fight. They’re a good football team, they’re a power football team. All I can do is go grind it out day-to-day and make these kids better young men. That’s what the program is about.” KSU head man Paul Haynes said.
The visitors opened the scoring midway through the first period as redshirt freshman QB Daniel Santacaterina used the running of Bouganon and junior RB Jordan Huff along with a short passing game to move 93 yards in 16 plays for a 7-0 lead.
Santacatarina, the fourth quarterback used by the Huskies this season due to injury, capped the drive with a three-yard touchdown run off a quarterback draw.
KSU tied the score 7-7 midway through the second period thanks to quarterback George Bollas. On second down from his own 15-yard line, The sophomore escaped the rush and ran up the middle before going down the left sideline and into the end zone for the score.
Bollas got the start when Nick Holley was injured in the Flashes 42-7 loss last week at Bowling Green.
The score remained 7-7 through halftime and into the third quarter. NIU regained the lead when Santacatarina used his big play receiver senior Kenny Golladay twice on a four-play, 60-yard drive. Galloway’s second catch took the Huskies to the KSU one-yard line. However, the play also took Golladay out of the contest with an arm injury. Huff capped the drive with a one-yard burst up the middle and a 14-7 advantage.
The Flashes tied the score 14-14 toward the end of the period when Bollas hit senior Ernest Calhoun on a go-route down the right sideline. The completion went for 57 yards and a touchdown.
On the drive after the touchdown, NIU moved the ball from its own 26 to the KSU 17 on its next drive. The big play was a 44-yard completion from Santacaterina to junior WR Christian Blake down the middle.
When the Flashes defense stiffened, PK Christian Hagan came on and converted a 34-yard field goal to make the score 17-14.
A short Flashes punt along with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty early in the fourth period set the Huskies up at the KSU 40. From there, Bouagnon carried the ball twice, with the second covering nine yards for a touchdown.
After the Huskies defense forced the Flashes into a three-and-out, the offense got the ball on its own 32. From there, the Huskies marched 63 yards in 11 plays for their final touchdown. The big play was again a Santacaterina completion, this one to junior TE Shane Wimann for 32 yards.
Overall, Santacaterina completed 13-of-23 passes for 258 yards and was not intercepted in his first collegiate start. Bouagnon capped the drive with his second touchdown, a two-yard run around the right side to make the score 31-14.
When asked about the play of his freshman, Carey said "I thought he was jittery in the first half. In the second half, he calmed down and operated the offense much better. We told him he didn't have to be perfect, just be himself. Kent State was daring him to make plays. Kenny [Golladay] really sparked us in the second half with those two catches before he went down."
The Flashes did manage to give their fans on a chilly, damp afternoon one final reason to cheer as the offense moved 85 yards in 12 plays. Bollas, threw the football on every snap of the drive.
After gaining a first down at the NIU 10, Bollas threw into the back of the end zone. Despite five white-uniformed Huskies all around the ball, senior TE Brice Fackler somehow came down with it for the score to close the margin to 31-21.
Any hope KSU had of a miracle comeback ended in the final moments. Bollas, who completed 14-of-35 passes for 203 yards and rushed for 87 additional yards and the two scores, was intercepted by junior DB Mayomi Olootu, sealing the Huskies eighth consecutive win over the Flashes.
Within the statistics, two things stood out. First, both offensives moved the ball effectively. NIU finished the game with 473 yards and KSU 391, despite the chilly, damp conditions.
The second notable stat reflected the play of Golden Flashes free safety Kevin Bourne. The sophomore led Kent State with a career-high 21 tackles. It was the most by a KSU defensive player this season and fourth most by a player in the Football Bowl Subdivision so far this season.
When asked about his seniors and what is ahead for the program, Haynes said “I’m proud of the senior class. (We) didn’t finish it the way that we wanted to with them. (I) love their fight, love their grit. I’m proud of these guys for what they did for this program and this university.
Both teams now look ahead to 2017. NIU will play Boston College at home while traveling to Nebraska and San Diego State as part of their non-conference schedule. KSU heads to Marshall and Clemson with other games yet to be determined.