DeKALB – While Tre Harbison made a personal milestone, the NIU football team lost to Eastern Michigan, 45-17, and was eliminated from the postseason.
Harbison ran for 112 yards to reach 1,000 yards for the second straight season, becoming the first player since Jordan Lynch to do so for the Huskies.
"I'm not really a big me guy," Harbison said. "It kind of sucks right now cause we lost and we didn't go out like we should have for the seniors. I love these guys. They practice every day, they fight every day. ... It's a good thing for my family to be proud of but it sucks internally right now."
Eastern Michigan (6-5, 3-4 MAC) opened the second half with a touchdown drive, pushing the lead to 21-7. Quarterback Mike Glass was 5-of-6 passing on the drive, and Shaq Vann ran it in from 8 yards for a 21-7 lead. NIU (4-7, 3-4) answered, marching quickly into EMU territory, aided by quarterback Marcus Childers finding Daniel Crawford on a pass for 13 yards on a third-and-12. On the next play, Childers scrambled for 38 yards down to the EMU 16, but the drive stalled there, and the Huskies settled for a 34-yard field goal by Josh Richardson.
The next time NIU scored it cut the lead to 45-17 in the final minute.
The loss eliminated the Huskies from the postseason and any chance of winning the Mid-American Conference West Division.
"For us, playing for the seniors and sending them out the right way is important," first-year head coach Thomas Hammock said. "As we transition, for them to show what this program means to them, they'll have a chance to give senior speeches to say what this program meant and pass it on to the young players. The great thing is in times of adversity you find out the true character of men. And that's what we're going to show."
After NIU kicked the field goal, EMU wasted no time scoring on the next drive, going 75 yards in two plays, including a 36-yard pass by Glass to Line Latu for a 28-10 lead.
Then the turnovers came for the Huskies. A fumble by Childers set up a field goal, then Brody Hoying got his second interception of the game, leading to a 22-yard score on the first play of the drive. Arthur Jackson extended with one arm to haul in the pass and kept his foot just inbounds for a touchdown catch and 38-10 lead at the end of three quarters.
Childers started in place of Ross Bowers, who Hammock said was back in the concussion protocol for the second time this year. Childers threw for 99 yards, ran for 92, and turned the ball over four times, three in the second half.
Harbison had 30 carries in the win, and in all NIU ran 48 times for 256 yards.
"One thing I think Tre did today was he went out there and battled for our offense," Hammock said. "We knew we had some limitations as far as what we could but he went out there and tried to keep it a normal down and distance and I think that's awesome, back-to-back 1,000-yard season. I'm sure he's going to tell you it's not about the individual but certainly that's something he should be proud of."
The Eagles built a 14-0 lead to start the game despite the Huskies having the first two possessions of the game. The first ended in a Childers interception, but Brody Hoying fumbled during the return, and Childers recovered.
NIU went three-and-out on the next possession, and the Eagles answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Glass, capping an eight-play, 62-yard drive.
In the second quarter, Glass found Jackson for a 36-yard touchdown pass, and the Eagles seemed to be pulling away.
But the Huskies got back into the game on the ground, running seven times on a 10-play touchdown drive, capped by an 8-yard scoring run by Childers on an option. He faked the handoff to Tre Harbison, pulled it out, kept it and ran through the middle barely touched for the score, cutting the lead to 14-7 with 6:33 left in the half.
Childers threw another interception in the fourth, leading to another touchdown for the Eagles, this one a 3-yard run by Jairus Grissom for a 45-10 lead. The Huskies answered with a drive that went 75 yards on 15 plays in 8:41, capped by a 9-yard pass on fourth-and-3 from Childers to Crawford.
Eastern gained 235 yards through the air, with Glass completing 20 of 24 passes for three scores and a touchdown, leading Eastern to a win over NIU for the first time since 2007. Earlier this year, Ball State beat NIU for the first time since 2008. The last time the Huskies lost to both in the same year was also in 2007.
"They attacked some of our weaknesses and did a good job," Hammock said. "Credit to them. Our kids went out there and battled. They didn't quit. But at the stage in the season we just want to go out the right way next week for our seniors."
The Huskies close the season Tuesday at home against Western Michigan.
"It's really big for the guys that are seniors," senior safety Mykelti Williams said. "It's really big this week that we do a really good job of showing the young guys how to go about their business the right way and play our best brand of football when we step out on to Huskie Stadium."