The Huskies (4-3, 3-1 Mid-American Conference) went up 21-0 halfway through the second quarter en route to their first win over Toledo at Huskie Stadium since 1989. NIU used a pair of Chad Spann touchdown runs, sandwiched by a 45-yard Marcus Perez touchdown reception from Harnish to take the three-touchdown halftime advantage.
"After 21 years of coaching, you're never always nervous and never comfortable with a lead," NIU first-year head coach Jerry Kill said.
After being shutout 21-0 in the first half, the Rockets opened the third quarter with an 11- play, 77-yard drive that ended in a 21-yard touchdown run by Morgan Williams. The score brought the Rockets within 14, but the Huskies answered on their next possession with a 32-yard Mike Salerno field goal to extend the lead back to 17.
The Huskies forced Toledo to punt on its next possession. NIU followed with a nine-play, 70-yard drive, keyed by an 18-yard catch by Britt Davis on third and three, and finished with a 15-yard touchdown reception by Marcus Perez that put the Huskies up 31-7 with 13:07 left in the game. Harnish went 3-for-4 on the drive.
"It was great to have Chandler Harnish healthier and playing well," Kill said. "Since the Minnesota game, Marcus Perez has been playing extremely well and assumed a leadership role in the offense."
Northern Illinois sealed the victory on the second play of Toledo's ensuing possession, when senior defensive end Larry English sacked Rocket quarterback Aaron Opelt, forcing a fumble that Jake Coffman recovered on the Toledo 43 yard line. Coffman finished the day with two fumble recoveries, a sack and three tackles.
The Huskies rushed on the next six plays, setting up a 10-yard touchdown pass from Harnish to Reed Cunningham. The score put the Huskies ahead by the final margin of 38-7 with 7:44 left.
Harnish, who started under center for the first time since the Western Michigan game, Sept. 6, completed 12-of-16 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. He was also NIU's second-leading rusher, compiling a career best 60 yards on eight attempts, including a 32-yard burst in the third quarter.
Spann led the Huskie ground attack with 15 attempts for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Spann opened Northern's scoring with a 12-yard rush on the first drive of the game, and added his second score on a two-yard run in the second.
The Huskie defense held an opposing offense to less than 10 points for the fourth time in five games. Northern Illinois sacked Opelt three times and intercepted the Toledo quarterback once. NIU allowed just 229 yards of total offense, with only 80 yards allowed on the ground.
"They key to our success as a defense has been our offense," Kill said. "Our offense has been controlling the ball and keeping the defense on the sidelines."
Northern Illinois has now won 10 of its last 11 Homecoming games, and returns to Huskie Stadium Oct. 25 to host Bowling Green at 3 p.m.
Northern Illinois Defeats Toledo 38-7
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