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NIU squanders big defensive plays from Jordan Gandy, Kyle Pugh early in loss

DeKALB – Although it ended as a 40-10 loss to Central Michigan, the NIU football team's defense handed it's offense chance after chance in the second quarter to tie the game.

And chance after chance after chance the offense squandered.

"We have to reward the defense for their hard work," second-year coach Thomas Hammock said.

The defense made some big plays and forced some turnovers, but they went for naught in the first half.

Jordan Gandy made a big interception on a CMU drive in the second quarter with the Huskies down, 7-0, but NIU followed with a three-and-out.

Quarterback Daniel Richardson passed to Dallas Dixon deep on a seam route, but Gandy came out of nowhere, leaped, and pulled down the interception.

"We were in a zone coverage, so one receiver sat down, my responsibility was to keep going to my zone," Gandy said. "That was what I did,. The quarterback put the ball there, and I just made the play."

The Chippewas followed by converting two fourth downs, but on a fourth-and-1 from the NIU 6, linebacker Kyle Pugh sacked Richardson, giving the ball back to the Huskies. The Huskies, again, followed that with a three-and-out.

"It's just the mentality of our defense," said Pugh, who had 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks. "When our back is against the wall, we have to get out there even more. When the quarterback was rolling out, I saw the opportunity to go get him. And I got him."

The next CMU drive started at the NIU 39, but Michael Kennedy recorded a strip-sack that led to a CMU punt. Again, the Huskies followed with a three-and-out. This time the punt's snap was bad and led to a safety.

Then Pugh got another sack, forced a three-and-out, and Bowers threw an interception on first down, only to be bailed out by a roughing-the-passer penalty. It was the only first down of the drive.

"It's pretty frustrating," wide receiver Cole Tucker said. "The defense playing their hearts out, we just can't get into a rhythm, and it's tough. We practice all week, execute, but we just need to do better. Plain and simple."

Although it was only a nine-point game at halftime, the Chips built the lead to 33-0 early in the fourth. The Chippewas outgained the Huskies, 433-234. The Huskies held starting running back Kobe Lewis in check with 59 yards on 16 carries and a score, but backup Lew Nichols III ran 12 times for 91 yards and a touchdown and added two receptions for 59 yards and a score.

CMU freshman quarterback Daniel Richardson through for 196 yards, completing 13 of 19 passes.

Pugh said he wouldn't know for sure until he watched the film, but he felt the defense played well.

"We had a couple mental errors that cost us some big plays," Pugh said. "Definitely want to see what happened on those plays, get back to the drawing board and get better."

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