Rockets Lose Battle for MAC West Crown to Huskies, 31-24
DeKalb, IL - Northern Illinois ended Toledo's chances for a Mid-American Conference title for the third consecutive season, as the Huskies rallied to defeat the Rockets, 31-24, in DeKalb Wednesday night.
Toledo (8-3, 5-2 MAC) moved the ball throughout the night and held a 14-7 halftime lead, but could not overcome four turnovers. The Rockets' defense held NIU in check in the first half, but the Huskies exploded for three touchdowns and 347 yards of total offense in the third quarter to put Toledo in a hole it could not climb out of.
Northern Illinois (10-1, 7-0 MAC) clinched its third straight division title and will have a chance to defend its MAC crown vs. either Kent State of Bowling Green of the East Division at the MAC Championship Game in Detroit on Nov. 30.
Toledo was led by junior quarterback Terrance Owens who threw for 265 yards on 22-of-32 passing. However, Owens was nicked for three interceptions, tying his career high that he set vs. FIU in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Junior David Fluellen, the nation's leading rusher with 1,460 yards, rushed for 79 yards on 22 carries. Senior linebacker Dan Molls led the defense with 16 tackles and his third interception of the season.
Toledo held a 14-7 halftime lead, thanks to a swarming defense that held the Huskies to just 151 yards of total offense. Seven points was the fewest scored by NIU in the first 30 minutes all season.
Toledo wasted no time getting on the scoreboard, reaching the end zone on its first drive on a 12-play, 72-yard drive that was capped by a one-yard plunge by Fluellen. The score stayed that way until 6:27 left in the second quarter when NIU took advantage of an interception to tie the score, 7-7. NIU's Jimmie Ward picked off an Owens' pass, giving the Huskies the ball on the Toledo 34-yard line. Nine plays later Jordan Lynch hit Martel Moore for a five-yard score.
Toledo recaptured the lead on a one-yard run by Owens that finished off a seven-play, 83-yard drive and take a 14-7 lead into the locker room. Owens was 4-for-4 passing on the drive and hit 15-of-17 throws overall in the first half.
NIU scored 21 points in the third quarter, including drives of 99 and 97 yards, to take a 28-14 lead. The Huskies scored on their first play from scrimmage in the quarter when Moore took a short pass from Lynch, kept his balance after being knocked around in the backfield, and then sprinted straight ahead 73 yards to tie the score at 14-14.
The Huskies moved ahead, 21-14, on a 99-yard drive following a Melvin Rashaan interception at the UT one-yard line. Lynch completed three passes to Ashford Perez on the drive, the last one a six-yard touchdown. NIU's next drive was thwarted when Dan Molls picked off Lynch near the goal line and ran it back 63 yards to put the Rockets in position to tie the game. However, NIU picked off Owens for the third time to set up another long drive. Seven plays and 97 yards later, Akeem Daniels barreled his way in the end zone for a six-yard score to give NIU a 28-14 advantage.
NIU tacked on three more points on a 43-yard field goal by Mathew Sims to go up, 31-14, with 12:31 to play. But the Rockets would not quit, coming right back and cutting the lead to 31-21 with 10:06 to play on a nine-play, 61-yard drive that ended with Cassius McDowell scoring from five yards out. Less than five minutes later, Jeremiah Detmer booted his 21st field goal of the season to make the score 31-24, but NIU went on to convert two third downs and ran out the clock to end the game.
The Rockets' next game will be the regular-season finale vs. Akron at home on Tuesday, Nov. 20.