Eastern Illinois and its high-powered offense pulled out all the tricks and gave Northern Illinois everything it had in the Huskies’ home opener on Saturday.
EIU took a late lead as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo found Erik Lora in the back corner of the end zone for 10-yard touchdown and a three-point lead with 9:53 remaining.
But on the next possession, NIU running back Cameron Stingily rumbled 46 yards, setting up an eight-yard touchdown run by Keith Harris Jr., and the Huskies held on to win, 43-39.
It was the 22nd consecutive win at Huskie Stadium for NIU (3-0).
Eastern Illinois (3-1) wasted little time getting on the board and EIU coach Dino Babers made it clear the Panthers weren’t going to play it safe, either.
Garoppolo completed seven of his first eight passes, including a 14-yard touchdown to Erik Lora, leading the Panthers on a 75-yard touchdown drive on its first possession.
After EIU recovered the onside kick, Garoppolo fired a 44-yard touchdown to Adam Drake on a post pattern to put Eastern Illinois up 13-0.
“You don’t beat a team like this playing straight up and playing by the rules,” Babers said. “If you’re going to come up and beat a team like this you’re going to have to bend the rules a little bit and that’s what we were doing.”
The Panthers forced a quick three-and-out, converted its second fourth down of the night, and Garoppolo found Keiondre Gober for a 13-yard touchdown and a 20-0 lead.
“I don’t know if it was a slow start by us as much as a fast start by them,” NIU coach Rod Carey said.
NIU’s offense responded with a 60-yard scoring drive, capped by Cameron Stingily’s five-yard rushing touchdown. NIU’s defense stopped EIU on its third fourth down attempt of the first quarter when Marlon Moore picked off Garoppolo’s pass. Lynch then hit Da’Ron Brown for 51 yards on the first play following the turnover and, after converting a fourth down, Stingily leaped over a defender and stumbled in for a five-yard touchdown to cut the Panther lead to seven.
Stingily finished with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the night.
Early in the second quarter, Lynch escaped multiple tacklers, spun away from another defender for a 36-yard run. Lynch then found Luke Eakes for a three-yard touchdown pass and a 20-20 tie.
The senior quarterback ended with 235 passing yards and 189 rushing yards.
A late Huskie drive ended in a Mat Sims field goal to give the Huskies their first lead of the game, 23-20, at the half.
Harris’ nine-yard touchdown run in the third quarter put NIU up 10.
EIU ended NIU’s run of 30 consecutive points with two Garoppolo touchdown passes sandwiched around a Mat Sims field goal, tying the score, 33-33, early in the fourth quarter.