The Daily Chronicle is looking back at the top 10 games of the last decade of NIU football. Today's entry, NIU vs. Toledo in 2015 is No. 10
Date: Nov. 3, 2015
Score: NIU 32, Toledo 27
Why it was selected: The Huskies knocked off undefeated, No. 24 ranked Toledo in the Glass Bowl to run their win streak in the rivalry game to six straight, thanks to the heroic efforts of backup quarterback Ryan Graham.
Ryan Graham was thrust into the spotlight near the beginning of his Northern Illinois career.
Regardless of what went on to happen in the rest of his career that he called a 'journey,' a Huskies legend was born when he led NIU to a primetime #MACtion victory over then undefeated and 24th-ranked Toledo on Nov. 3, 2015.
Graham entered the game with the Huskies trailing 17-10 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first half against a Rockets team that had won 30 of its previous 38 MAC games, although five of those losses had come against NIU. Toledo had already beaten Power 5 teams Iowa State and Arkansas.
“They just told me I was in and I really had no time to think," Graham said. "As a backup you just kind of go to the game, sit there and try to read the defense and see what’s going on. Once your number is called, you’ve just got to react.”
All-Mid-American Conference offensive lineman Levon Myers recalled that it was a quarterback power play called for starting signal-caller Drew Hare to run and that the whistle blew quickly. It was a non-contact injury for the then-junior quarterback in the second quarter.
The Huskies had already lost Tommylee Lewis earlier in the first half to a non-contact injury after the senior Huskie had hauled in a 67-yard touchdown pass and a 50-yard reception on third and 39 that led to a Christian Hagan field goal for a 17-10 NIU deficit.
“Any time your quarterback goes down, you’re like ‘oh no’ what happened?' Myers said. "As an offensive lineman, you just take pride in your quarterback staying clean so I turned around and saw him on the ground like what exactly happened? And before I knew it, you got to get the next play going.”
Graham did not have to do much immediately as the Huskies benefited from a lackluster Toledo punt that gave NIU short field for a field goal and a Brandon Mayes interception led to another successful three-point kick from Hagan.
NIU could have dug itself a deeper hole after surrendering over 200 yards of rushing in the first half to the lethal combination of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson, but found itself down 17-16 at the break.
“I remember going into halftime and just as an offensive lineman we’re like 'okay, we’ve got to keep Graham clean,'" Myers said. "Because we trusted him, but he’s a young player coming into a big game and situation. We’re like ‘we have to make this as easy for him as possible.’ No pressure, get a clean pocket, call runs for him, we’ve got to block it up.”
Graham recalls then junior wide receiver and now Detroit Lion Kenny Golladay hyping him up in the locker room at halftime.
“I just remember Kenny Golladay pulled me over to the side, kind of where we were getting taped in the training room," Graham said. "He just punched me in the chest and said ‘I believe in you more than anybody here. We’re going to get this done,’ and was just yelling at me and that just fired me up.”
Golladay overcame a fumble on NIU's first drive, and an early completion on a hard hit to bounce back in the second half.
“It was huge because they were undefeated and they were on our side," Golladay said. "We were still trying to push for the MAC Championship.”
Graham showed himself a threat with his feet on NIU's first drive of the second half with a 38-yard run, but relied more on future NFL back Joel Bouagnon, who finished with 87 yards rushing and the eventual winning score.
After Toledo went up 24-16 on a 1-yard, fourth down rushing score, Hagan punctuated the NIU response as he nailed his fourth field goal of the game, this time from 52 yards.
The Huskies were not going away.
Toledo's Jameson Vest knocked through a field goal for an eight-point lead, 27-19, with 13:45 to go in the fourth quarter.
In response on the next drive, Graham connected with Golladay on a slant for a first down. Jordan Huff ran for 12 yards on the next play to move the chain again. Three plays later Graham found Golladay on a crossing route for another first down.
The Rockets after stopping a Graham run on third down, were called for a Dejuan Rogers leverage penalty call on a Hagan field goal that split the uprights that moved the chains. Instead of having three more points, the Huskies received a first down and a fresh set of chains.
Graham and Golladay connected with the latter hauling in the ball with his right hand and pressing it to his body for a Sportscenter Top 10-worthy touchdown grab.
The speed-option pitch to Bouagnon was snuffed out by Toledo as NIU trailed by two, 27-25.
“That fade to Kenny, the one that Kenny caught with one hand, the other side of the field was a play that we had practiced during the week," Graham said. "But I went to the sideline afterward and I told Drew (Hare), I was like, 'Dude, don’t even know what the other side of the play is because I had never repped it.’”
Myers, on the field for the play, had to do a double-take to realize what had happened.
"I was pass-blocking and I glanced over just in time to see him jump up and make that catch," Myers said. "There’s no way he caught that and then I saw the refs put his hands up.”
And down the field Toledo marched in response, only for Vest, the second-leading scorer in MAC history, to miss the field goal wide right.
Taking over on the 30 with 5:19 left, the Huskie offense went to work.
After consecutive plays with little room to operate, as well as a Huskies penalty, Graham scrambled to find Golladay for a first down. On the very next play, Graham hit Golladay down the numbers on the right side of the field for a 44-yard gain into the red zone.
“I remember the play call," Graham said. "It was a corner-post route. We called it ‘sheriff.’ I knew in my head before the snap I was going to throw to him no matter what. They actually went into coverage, I think they went into cover 3. And I wasn’t supposed to throw it into cover 3. I was supposed to throw the check down. But I still let it loose and obviously Kenny’s a freak and he made a play.”
Bouagnon ran for three yards, then down to the 2-yard line, was stopped for a loss on first down and Toledo called timeout with 2:04 left. On the next play, Bouagnon rumbled in for the go-ahead score.
“Just grateful. Just glad I was able to be a part of it," Golladay said.
NIU put the game away with Boomer Mays' tipped interception, caused by the pressure of Perez Ford that forced Phillip Ely into a hurried checkdown throw.
And while Graham went on to have injuries that slowed his career — Graham threw 267 passes over 19 games over four years and never saw a snap on the field as a senior in 2018 — he'll always have the memory of the night he went down in Huskies history.
“It was one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of," Graham said. "I’ll never forget that game for sure.”
Today – No. 10, NIU wins on the road at Toledo
Dec. 7 – No. 9
Dec. 11 – No. 8
Dec. 14 – No. 7
Dec. 18 – No. 6
Dec. 21 – No. 5
Dec. 24 – No. 4
Dec. 28 – No. 3
Dec. 30 – No. 2
Dec. 31 – No. 1