After a 16-yard touchdown pass from Dan Nicholson to Greg Turner pulled the Huskies within three points of the homestanding Western Michigan Broncos with 40 seconds left on the clock, NIU kicker Mike Salerno spun a perfect onside kick that teammate T.J. Griffin recovered. But the Huskies were called for an illegal procedure penalty and Western Michigan recovered Salerno's second try to end the Huskie comeback and hand NIU its second straight loss.
Statistically, Northern Illinois held the clear edge. The Huskies passed for 297 yards to Western Michigan's 186, ran 15 more plays than the Broncos and held the ball for nearly 10 more minutes than WMU. Northern Illinois converted seven-of-15 third downs while holding Western Michigan to a three-of-10 rate.
But in the end, it came down to a few key plays, according to Huskie head coach Jerry Kill.
"We had opportunities in the game and you've got to take advantage of them," Kill said. "The game comes down to about 10 key plays and we didn't make those plays. There are some things you can control and some you can't. All I know is we had a chance to win the game and we didn't."
Northern Illinois battled adversity throughout the game, beginning with the loss of starting quarterback Chandler Harnish to injury in the first quarter. The quarterback duo of senior Dan Nicholson and redshirt freshman DeMarcus Grady combined to give NIU a chance to win. Nicholson, who is coming off of offseason surgery on his throwing shoulder, completed 16-of-29 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 21 yards on nine carries.
Grady, meawhile, provided a spark in the third quarter and finished the game with seven catches for 43 yards and a rushing touchdown. Inserted for the first time at the 4:11 mark of the third period after NIU's Chase Carter recovered a fumble, Grady carried the ball on four consecutive plays to take the ball from the NIU 33 to the WMU 44. Two plays later, Nicholson got in on the rushing action with a 24-yard scamper, the longest run of his career, to the Western Michigan 11. Grady re-entered and three plays later, his three-yard run gave the Huskies a 19-14 fourth-quarter lead.
Western Michigan came back with a 9-play, 82-yard drive to re-claim the lead on a three-yard pass from quarterback Tim Hiller to Juan Nunez with 10:05 on the clock.
Behind the rushing of Brandon West, who gained 175 yards on 25 carries in the game, the Broncos extended the lead to 29-19. WMU had regained the ball at the NIU 33 after a Grady fumble.
"When Chandler got hurt, the game plan went in a different direction," Kill said. "Grady came in and gave us something and he and Dan did a tremendous job. Our kids fought their tail ends off and never gave in. But you can't make the mental errors like we did tonight. We made too many mental errors and the bottom line is we didn't win the game."
The Huskies opened the game with a 45-yard completion on the flea-flicker from Harnish to Matt Simon and scored on freshman Me'co Brown's 26-yard rush to take a 7-0 lead. Western Michigan tied the game midway through the quarter on a 26-yard pass from Hiller to Jamarko Simmons, who led the Broncos with eight catches for 102 yards.
NIU also got a pair of field goals from Mike Salerno, of 20 and 39 yards. Western Michigan's West gained 141 of his 175 rushing yards in the second half.
Nine different Huskies caught passes in the game, led by senior Marcus Perez, who grabbed six passes for 77 yards. Freshman Nathan Palmer followed up his 170 receiving yard performance in the season opener with four catches for 78 yards Saturday.
"We've got to do a better job doing the little things," Kill said. "I saw some good things and I promise you we will get there."
Northern Illinois is open next Saturday before playing host to Indiana State on Sept. 20 at 2 p.m. at Huskie Stadium in the 2008 home opener.
NIU Comeback Attempt Falls Short at WMU
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