DeKALB – A disappointing non-conference schedule came to a disappointing end for the Northern Illinois football team.
Four weeks into the season, the Huskies are still winless after falling 28-23 to in-state FCS foe Western Illinois on Saturday afternoon at Huskie Stadium.
The Huskies had the ball on the Western Illinois 9-yard line but turned it over on downs in the final seconds.
"They deserve to win," Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey said. "They made one or two more plays than we did and we got off to a horrendous start – again. That bled into the second half this time and by the time we did get going, we didn't have enough time to complete the comeback even though we were down there twice."
It's the first loss for the Huskies (0-4 overall) against an FCS school since 2007, when they lost 34-31 to Southern Illinois, snapping a 7-game winning streak over FCS schools.
For the Leathernecks, who came in ranked No. 13 in the FCS coaches poll, it is the first win over an FBS school in 15 attempts.
"We saw teams in our conference do it, North Dakota State beat Iowa, and we said why not us?" Western Illinois wide receiver Joey Borsellino said.
The Western Illinois players said after the game there was a chip on their shoulder after not being recruited by bigger in-state schools, like Northern Illinois.
The Huskies, who have lost seven straight dating back to last year, made things interesting in the second half, scoring 16 unanswered points after trailing 28-7 in the third quarter. The Huskies got the ball back late in the fourth quarter twice with a chance to take the lead. The first drive ended when a keeper by senior quarterback Anthony Maddie was inches short – turning the ball over on downs at the Western 19-yard line with just less than three minutes left.
On the last drive of the game, the Huskies faced fourth and three from the Western 9-yard line, but Maddie's pass to tight end Shane Wimann was incomplete.
"Those two fourth down calls were my calls," Carey said. "I made them and they were obviously bad calls. I'll take that and I'll take all this and we're not going to flinch. We're not going to go ahead and do anything but go back to work and get this thing ready because we have a good football team. We have to learn how to win a football game."
Maddie, listed as the backup quarterback, took the reins during the Huskies' comeback and finished 11 for 17 with 142 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 39 yards. Starter Ryan Graham went 14 for 21 with 109 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Northern Illinois junior running back Jordan Huff had nine carries for 130 yards and a touchdown and senior back Joel Bouagnon had 75 rushing yards. Senior wide receiver Kenny Golladay had five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown and Aregeros Turner added seven receptions for 59 yards.
Western Illinois was led by quarterback Sean McGuire, who went 21 for 37 with 315 yards – his favorite target being Borsellino, who had nine catches for 148 yards.
The Leathernecks opened up a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter, after running back Steve McShane rushed for an 11-yard score and Gilmore punched in a 1-yard run to put Western Illinois ahead 14-0 with a minute left in the opening period.
After coming up scoreless in their first three drives – including one three-and-out drive with backup quarterback Anthony Maddie – the Huskies finally scored on a 2-yard pass from Graham in the flat to Wimann on a fourth-and-goal.
The Leathernecks, who led 14-7 at halftime, had two more potential chances at points in the second quarter, but they missed a 34-yard field goal and the clock ran out with them on the NIU 22-yard line.
However, they built their lead early in the third quarter, scoring in their first two possessions of the second half – a 1-yard touchdown run by McGuire and a 3-yard touchdown reception by Isaiah Lesure to make it 28-7 with seven minutes remaining. Sandwiched between those touchdowns was Western Illinois intercepting a batted ball from Graham at the line on the NIU 23.
Trailing 28-7 late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies faced fourth and 10 from the Western 10 and elected to kick a 27-yard field goal by Christian Hagan – bringing plenty of boos from the crowd, who wanted Northern Illinois to go for it.
The Huskies cut it closer after two quick-strike scoring drives, including a 2-play, 61-yard drive that consisted of a 38-yard reception by Golladay and a 23-yard touchdown run by Huff and the 6-play, 60-yard drive that was capped with a 39-yard touchdown catch by Golladay. Both drives took less than 1:16.
"I think we got complacent with the scoreboard," Western Illinois linebacker Bretty Taylor said about NIU's comeback.
No Huskie players were made available for comment following the game.