ATHENS, Ohio – When Marcus Childers trotted out onto the field on Northern Illinois’ second offensive possession of the third quarter in the Huskies’ 39-36 win Saturday at Ohio, common sense would dictate the Ohio Bobcats pay attention.
Childers did, after all, run his way to 169 rushing yards in the Huskies’ victory over the Bobcats in DeKalb last year.
Childers took the empty backfield snap, ran through a gap the size of a pickup truck between center C.J. Perez, down-blocking left tackle Andrew Starr and tight end Mitchell Brinkman, picked up a pulling block from Brayden Patton and took off for a 70-yard gain that set up the first of Tre Harbison’s three second-half rushing scores.
“He went out there, and I was hoping he’d run into the end zone untouched, but was looking around and … he got banged up a bit, so we really couldn’t go back to him,” Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock said.
The run from Childers was the longest since the Huskies’ Anthony Maddie took off for a 75-yarder against Ball State in 2016.
“[Childers] had a phenomenal offseason,” tight end Mitchell Brinkman said. “He’s one of the hardest-working players on the team day in and day out. He pushed every single one on this team, and it was great for him to get in there, and obviously, he capitalized on his plays.”
The Huskies’ offense was off and running the rest of the way, scoring on its next four possessions.
NIU was in the negatives in rushing yards at the half. Childers quickly dug the Huskies out of that hole, but it was Harbison who kept shoveling the coal into the furnace. Harbison earned Mid-American Conference West Offensive Player of the Week honors after piling up 113 rush yards and the aforementioned three touchdowns.
“It’s just the small things. People start hitting less, people start acting timid,” Harbison said. “You see people’s body language deteriorate. During the game, first quarter, everybody’s adrenaline is pumping. Everybody wants to have the first lick on you, but once it gets to the fourth quarter, nobody wants to hit no more.”
After not running the ball more than once on any drive in the first half, NIU committed to the ground attack in the second half.
“He broke some tackles,” Hammock said. “He missed some runs early in the game that put us behind the sticks. I got on him a little bit, and he responded the right way. We need to have more from the running game, and I think that will give us the balance that we need.”
Brinkman had a firsthand view of how hard Harbison was running the ball in the second half.
“He’s a freak. I wouldn’t want to tackle him,” Brinkman said. “I think he just wears defenses down. Tackling a 220-pound guy over and over again isn’t fun. We’ve just got to get him those creases, and we know he’s going to find them and make big plays for us.”
For a banged-up group of Huskies, the offense found the type of success that was sorely needed.
“Nobody probably thought we were going to come back and win that one, so just to come back as a team, we lifted our defense today,” Harbison said. “Countless amounts of times, they lifted the offense up. Today, we had their backs.”