Defense? What defense?
The University of Toledo and Northern Illinois combined for 123 points and 1,121 yards of total offense in a scintillating shootout Tuesday night in front of an announced crowd of 19,004 at the Glass Bowl. In the end, it was the Huskies who delivered the final blow with 19 seconds left on Chandler Harnish’s four-yard touchdown pass to Perez Ashford for a 63-60 victory.
With the win, Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1 Mid-American Conference) moves into a tie for first place in the MAC West with UT (5-4, 4-1).
"This was disappointing for our seniors and our football team for us to go out there and play the way we did," UT coach Tim Beckman said. "We didn't play as a team and we didn't do the things we had been doing the past couple of weeks."
Northern Illinois struck first 14 seconds into the contest on Tommylee Lewis’ 100-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, but Toledo wasn’t deterred, scoring on its opening possession with Austin Dantin’s 12-yard pass to Eric Page.
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Astoundingly, Lewis did it again on the ensuing kickoff, this time scoring on a 95-yard return. His two returns set a record for the two longest kickoff returns by a UT opponent in Glass Bowl history.
"We worked on our kickoff returns every day during the nine days we had to get ready for this game," NIU coach Dave Doeren said. "I knew that could be the difference maker in the game."
Yet, the Huskies weren’t able to sustain the momentum, because the Rockets countered with Page’s second of five TD receptions, again on a 12-yard pass from Dantin with 7:27 left in the first quarter.
Harnish and the Huskies’ offense finally got on the field, as he connected with Nathan Palmer for a six-yard pass and a 21-14 lead after the first.
Harnish found Palmer for the second of his three TD catches on a 71-yard bomb at the 9:59 mark in the second quarter to give the Huskies a 28-14 advantage, the largest lead for either team in the entire contest.
Dantin and Page once again had an answer, though, as they hooked up for a 5-yard TD pass with 5:06 left in the second quarter, and Jeremiah Detmer booted a 41-yard field goal at the 1:19 mark to go into halftime trailing Northern Illinois 28-24.
Dantin scampered for a five-yard TD run around left end to give the Rockets their first lead of the game 3:14 into the third quarter, but that was just the beginning of a fast and furious two-minute span.
Harnish tossed a 16-yard touchdown pass to Da’Ron Brown at the 10:05 mark to put Northern Illinois back in front 35-31, and Dantin followed by hitting Page for a 60-yard TD pass on a wide receiver screen at the 9:51 mark to give the Rockets a 38-35 lead.
Not to be outdone, Harnish fired his fourth TD pass of the game to Palmer with 3:30 left in the quarter on a 19-yard rainbow to the back left corner of the end zone as he was being hit in the chops by UT linebacker Robert Bell, who was closing quick on a blitz through the middle.
Toledo’s drive stalled deep in Northern Illinois territory at the outset of the fourth quarter, and the Rockets opted to have Ryan Casano attempt a 33-yard field goal to cut the Huskies’ lead to 42-41.
Harnish extended that advantage to 49-41 when he zipped a shovel pass to Willie Clark for a 15-yard touchdown with 11:51 remaining.
Page reeled in his fifth TD of the game, tying Randy Moss’ MAC record set in 1997, on 13-yard TD pass from Dantin with 10:46 to play, even after the ball was tipped by NIU linebacker Jordan Delegal. The Huskies maintained a 49-47 lead, though, after Dantin was sacked on the ensuing two-point try.
The Rockets got the ball right back after a Northern Illinois’ Pat McAvoy fumbled Detmer’s pooch kick, and UT’s Keith Suggs scooped up the loose ball. Two plays later, Adonis Thomas scored on a four-yard run up the middle at the 10:30 mark to put UT ahead 53-49. Dantin’s pass to Page fell incomplete after the Rockets went for two again.
Jasmin Hopkins capped a 72-yard scoring drive with an eight-yard run to give Northern Illinois a 56-53 lead with 8:00 left.
Thomas scored again on a 3-yard run with 4:16 left, but with plenty of time left, Northern Illinois covered 66 yards on nine plays in 3:52 for its final scoring drive.
Toledo’s offense took the field with just 15 seconds left, and a hook-and-lateral to Page on the final play of the game came up short at the NIU 24-yard line when Page was wrestled out of bounds.
FIRST QUARTER SCORING:
15:00 NIU: Toledo kicked off, Tommylee Lewis returned kickoff for 100 yards (Mathew Sims made PAT), 7 - 0
10:42 TOL: Austin Dantin passed to Eric Page down the middle for 12 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 7 - 7
10:29 NIU: Toledo kicked off, Tommylee Lewis returned kickoff for 95 yards (Mathew Sims made PAT), 14 - 7
7:37 TOL: Austin Dantin passed to Eric Page down the middle for 11 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 14 - 14
2:56 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Nathan Palmer to the left for 6 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 21 - 14
SECOND QUARTER SCORING:
10:27 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Nathan Palmer down the middle for 71 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 28-14
5:17 TOL: Austin Dantin passed to Eric Page to the right for 5 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 28 - 21
1:28 TOL: Jeremiah Detmer kicked a 41-yard field goal, 28 - 24
THIRD QUARTER SCORING:
12:03 TOL: Austin Dantin rushed to the left for 5 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 28 - 31
10:50 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Da'Ron Brown to the left for 16 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 35 - 31
10:05 TOL: Austin Dantin passed to Eric Page to the right for 60 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 35 - 38
4:17 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Nathan Palmer to the left for 19 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 42 - 38
FOURTH QUARTER SCORING:
14:18 TOL: Ryan Casano kicked a 33-yard field goal, 42 - 41
12:25 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Willie Clark to the right for 15 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 49 - 41
11:34 TOL: Austin Dantin passed to Eric Page down the middle for 13 yard gain (2pt attempt failed, Austin Dantin run to the right), 49 - 47
10:42 TOL: Adonis Thomas rushed to the left for 4 yard gain (2pt attempt failed, Austin Dantin pass to Eric Page), 49 - 53
8:12 NIU: Jasmin Hopkins rushed up the middle for 8 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 56 - 53
5:04 TOL: Adonis Thomas rushed to the left for 3 yard gain (Ryan Casano made PAT), 56 - 60
0:53 NIU: Chandler Harnish passed to Perez Ashford to the left for 4 yard gain (Mathew Sims made PAT), 63-60