TOLEDO – Northern Illinois let a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead slip away against Toledo on Wednesday night at the Glass Bowl.
But the Huskies didn’t hit the panic button, as they used a late drive to set up a game-winning 25-yard field goal by John Richardson with 45 seconds left, giving them a thrilling, 31-28 Mid-American Conference victory.
“It’s great,” head coach Thomas Hammock said. “Obviously, it’s a big win for us. We have short turnaround [to our next game], which is great. Just having the ability to get back into a groove thanks to a quick turnaround Tuesday night against Eastern Michigan, which is a very good team, we’re excited about.”
The Rockets (6-4, 3-3 MAC) scored the first points of the night on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Eli Peters to Devin Maddox, although the Huskies (4-6, 3-3) scored on their next first-quarter drive on a Ross Bowers pass to Daniel Crawford from 36 yards out.
On fourth-and-1 on the Toledo 40, the Huskies ran a read-option play. Backup quarterback Marcus Childers kept the ball, found room on the right sideline and sprinted in to give NIU a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Huskies seemingly had the game under control heading into the fourth quarter as they tacked on a pair of third-quarter scores.
Tre Harbison plunged over the top of a pile at the line to score from a yard out midway through the third, and with a minute to go in the quarter, Childers ran a sneak into the end zone to make it 28-7.
Toledo rallied to score three times in the fourth, however.
About a minute into the quarter, Eli Peters tossed a long pass for Bryce Mitchelll into the end zone. Mitchell was able to narrowly get his feet in, making the score 28-14.
The Huskies’ next drive stalled out quickly, and a special-teams blunder helped set up the Rockets’ next score. Punter Matt Ference bobbled the snap, and although he was able to recover, Toledo had the ball only 17 yards away from the end zone. Two plays later, Peters found Mitchell again, this time for a 17-yard score.
Toledo scored its final points of the night after a 10-play, 91-yard drive, capping it with a Ronnie Jones 7-yard touchdown run.
NIU began its final drive with 5:07 left. The Huskies marched down the field, and with time ticking down and a clear shot at the end zone, Childers elected to slide at the 16-yard line instead of looking for six.
“That’s more of a coach’s decision,” Childers said. “I actually probably should have went down at the 5-yard line just so we could run the clock down a little more. But in that situation, we want to run the clock down and kick a field goal, [and] that’s what we did.”
Toledo burned two timeouts to preserve time, but Richardson booted in the game-winner with 45 seconds left.
The Rockets’ final drive ended at the NIU 26-yard line, when they were flagged for a false start, running the final second off the clock.
With the win, the Huskies kept their bowl hopes alive, at least for another week.