DeKALB, Ill. – The scoring came early and often for Northern Illinois in the first half, and for the University of Toledo, well, that's a different story.
The Huskies led 28-0 at halftime, survived an explosive third quarter and rolled to a 65-30 victory over Toledo Tuesday night in front of 18,472 at Huskie Stadium. The result put NIU in the driver's seat for a Mid-American Conference West Division title and left the Rockets to settle for a probable winning season and a possible bowl game.
The 65 points UT allowed was the most since an 81-0 loss to Miami (Ohio) on Oct. 31, 1953. Since then, and prior to Tuesday night, the most the Rockets had surrendered was 63 points in back-to-back games at Minnesota and Kansas to open the 2004 season.
Chandler Harnish was the catalyst for the Huskies, as he has been for much of their seven-game winning streak. The senior quarterback was 11-of-16 passing for 162 yards and one touchdown, in addition to rushing for a team-high 149 yards – the third time this season he's crossed the century mark on the ground – on 13 carries for another touchdown.
NIU entered with the MAC's best run offense, and it didn't disappoint. The Huskies rolled up 422 yards on the ground, including six touchdown runs.
UT junior running back Adonis Thomas surpassed the 100-yard plateau for only the second time this season, finishing with 152 yards on 10 carries and two third-quarter touchdowns, but it wasn't enough. The Rockets were still outscored 28-23 in the frenetic 15 minutes after halftime, as the Huskies answered almost every UT score with a touchdown of their own.
UT finally cracked the scoring column 2:11 into the third quarter when senior defensive end Alex Johnson sacked Harnish in the end zone, resulting in a safety.
Thomas followed with an 18-yard touchdown run that made it 28-9 at the 10:42 mark in the quarter.
The two teams then traded touchdowns, with tailback Chad Spann scoring on a five-yard run and then Thomas scoring on a 60-yard run. The Rockets followed with a miscue — redshirt freshman quarterback Terrance Owens' only interception — and the Huskies turned that into seven points on Akeem Daniels' 50-yard reverse with 5:44 left in the third.
Owens responded on the Rockets' next series with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Eric Page, but again NIU had a rebuttal. Tommy Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards to give the Huskies a 56-23 advantage with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
NIU added a 55-yard touchdown run from Jasmin Hopkins and a 43-yard field goal from Michael Cklamovski in the fourth quarter that ricocheted off the left upright and fell just behind the crossbar – the only lucky break the Huskies needed all game.
NIU received the game's opening kick and methodically marched 74 yards down the field on 14 plays, capped by Spann's one-yard touchdown run with 7:40 left in the first quarter.
It was a sign of things to come from the Huskies, who were 3-for-3 on third-down conversions on the scoring drive. Spann had his number called on two of the third down plays, and both times he answered with first downs. He totaled 31 of his 70 rushing yards in the game during NIU's first possession.
After UT went three-and-out on its first possession, NIU opted to go for it on fourth down on its next series but was denied on fourth-and-3 by UT senior cornerback Desmond Marrow's tackle on Jordan Lynch's two-yard run.
But that would end up being the Rockets' most significant stop defensively, as NIU rolled up 295 yards of offense on 43 plays in the first half and finished with 584 total yards in the contest.
Daniels put NIU ahead 14-0 with 11:39 left in the second quarter with his 12-yard touchdown run on an end-around play.
After UT junior kicker Bill Claus missed a 37-yard field goal at the 9:03 mark, Harnish threw deep down the right seam to Nathan Palmer for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 5:43 remaining in the half.
Harnish then capped the first-half scoring with his 28-yard run with 20 seconds left in the second quarter. On a zone-read play, Harnish zig-zagged through the middle of UT's defense and went untouched to paydirt.
Harnish's counterpart, Owens, rushed for 25 yards on nine carries and was 17-of-37 passing for 181 yards and two touchdowns, including a late three-yard TD pass to Jerome Jones.
Owens' favorite target was Page, who had seven catches for 67 yards. Other than running backs, no other receiver had a catch, as Thomas and junior running back Morgan Williams had three catches apiece.