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TOLEDO, Ohio – It just wasn’t Mike Salerno’s night.
The usually solid Northern Illinois kicker, who came into Saturday’s game 8 of 11 on field goals and 16 of 16 on extra points, just couldn’t get anything to go his way.
After his extra-point attempt was blocked by Toledo’s Barry Church in the second quarter, the senior had a chance to give the Huskies a lead with less than a minute left in regulation on a 42-yard field goal attempt.
But the result was yet another blocked kick by Church, and the Rockets would run out the clock for a 20-19 victory Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
“We don’t know if I hit it too low, or if the guy got the push up the middle, could have been both,” Salerno said. “We won’t know until we watch the film basically. We try to hope things like that don’t happen, but sometimes they do so it will be a lesson learned for us.”
Church said he was able to get through an opening in the Huskies’ line.
“Coach (Tim) Beckman always tells us special teams are one of the biggest factors in the game. We prepared long and hard for their field goal team because we knew they had openings up the middle,” Church said. “It was wide open and I took advantage of it. I just stuck my hand up and made a play.”
The Rockets (4-3, 2-1 MAC West) were propelled by running back DaJuane Collins, who ran for 139 yards and two touchdowns, and wide receiver Eric Page, who caught 10 passes for 127 yards.
Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin, starting in place of an injured Aaron Opelt, had an up-and-down debut in his first collegiate start, going 17-for-24 for 202 yards. Dantin gave himself extra time and made plays with his feet before leaving with an ankle injury in the fourth quarter. He also fumbled four times and lost two.
Junior quarterback Alex Pettee replaced Dantin on the Rockets’ game-winning drive after Dantin was hit on a 29-yard completion to wide receiver Stephen Williams.
Pettee helped take Toledo to the NIU 4-yard line before Collins went into the end zone untouched for the game-winning score.
Me’co Brown led NIU (3-3, 1-1 MAC West) with 96 yards on the ground, but the longest Huskie run of the night was just a 12-yard scamper from the sophomore.
The Huskies were able to force three turnovers, an interception by linebacker Cory Hanson and two fumble recoveries.
Quarterback Chandler Harnish went 15 of 24 for 157 yards, but threw a key interception in the fourth quarter, which gave Toledo the ball at its own 3-yard line.
“We didn’t execute all night," said NIU coach Jerry Kill. "We were fortunate that we were in the game at the end.”