NIU's late spark fizzles
MT. PLEASANT, Mich. – Central Michigan remembered.
This time, it wasn't about to let Northern Illinois make another comeback. This time, it was ready for Mike Salerno's onside kicks.
This time, when the Chippewas took a big second-half lead, they kept moving the ball on offense and scoring as they beat Northern Illinois, 45-31, at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
"We just never gave up, no matter what the score is," NIU cornerback Patrick George said. "There's the mentality that we always play hard, no matter what the score is, because we can always comeback."
After falling behind 38-10 midway through the third quarter, it was George's interception and 80-yard touchdown return that jump-started the Huskies (7-5, 5-3 MAC West).
A minute later, NIU linebacker Pat Schiller caused a fumble and the Huskies drove for another score to bring the game within two scores.
But that was as close as they got as the Chippewas (10-2, 8-0 MAC West) recovered both NIU onside kick attempts, something it couldn't do when NIU rallied from 30-6 down to send the game to overtime before falling in DeKalb last season.
"I don't think we've ever quit since we've been here," NIU coach Jerry Kill said. "They did a good job covering onside kicks and we just couldn't get back in it."
While the Huskies avoided the big play in the kicking game, they struggled to stop the Chippewas' offense, which amassed 512 yards with equal parts passing (255 yards) and rushing (257 yards).
Even when they got to third down, they couldn't make the stops then as the Chippewas converted 12 of 18 times thanks to the big arm and mobility of CMU quarterback Dan LeFevour, who was 27 of 41 for 255 yards and three touchdowns. CMU running back Bryan Schroeder finished with 128 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"We didn't play bad, we just didn't make plays on third down," George said.
The Huskies left the field with two consecutive losses against the two teams who will play in next weekend's MAC Championship. But they also left with one more win then last regular season, which ended with a home loss to Navy.
"Last year nobody thought we were going to get in at 6-6, so I can't control that one," Kill said. "We've got a BCS win and all those kinds of things, so I think we have a good resumé."