A great defensive effort by NIU wasn’t enough to overcome Utah of the Pac 12

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The Northern Illinois University Huskies had the ball with a chance to drive for a game-winning score late in the fourth quarter, but an interception for a touchdown ended NIU’s comeback attempt as Utah escaped Huskie Stadium with a 17-6 victory on Saturday night.

The game was dominated by the two defenses as the Huskies and Utes combined for just 582 yards of total offense.

“The defense played good enough to win,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey.  “We gave up a couple long passes but it was a good effort by our defense.  A bunch of guys played really well, Sutton (Smith), Quintin (Wynne) were two.

“Obviously overall we’re very disappointed with the outcome of the game. Offensively, we didn’t execute in key situations in the red zone. Certainly we played better (offensively) [than last week] until the end of the game, but the result was the same and that’s not acceptable to us.”

With Utah leading 7-3 early in the fourth quarter, redshirt freshman Jordan Cole (Ferguson, Mo./McCluer South-Berkeley) forced and recovered a fumble to give the Huskies the ball at midfield. NIU would drive inside the Utah 10 before senior Andrew Gantz (Dayton, Ohio/Centerville/Cincinnati) connected on a 27-yard field goal to cut the Utah lead to 7-6.

The Utes answered with a 40-yard field goal on their next drive as the Utah lead climbed to 10-6 with 4:38 remaining.

After the two teams traded punts, NIU had the ball with 2:45 to play on its own 37-yard line. On the first play of the drive, Utah’s Chase Hansen intercepted a pass and went 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a 17-6 lead and put the game out of reach.

Sophomore quarterback Marcus Childers (Adairsville, Ga./Adairsville) finished the contest 18-of-33 passing for 111 yards. Sophomore Tre Harbison (Shelby, N.C./Crest/Virginia) rushed for a team-high 63 yards on 13 carries.

Juniors Sutton Smith (Saint Charles, Mo./Francis Howell) and Mykelti Williams (Indianapolis, Ind./Notre Dame/Iowa Western CC) each had eight tackles to lead the NIU defense. Smith’s eight tackles included 4.5 for loss and two sacks as the Huskie defense held Utah to just 354 yards of total offense.

On its second possession of the game, Utah drove down to the Huskie 25-yard line before the drive stalled and the Utes lined up for a 43-yard field goal. Sophomore Jack Heflin (Prophetstown, Ill./Erie-Prophetstown) got a hand up to block the kick and keep the game scoreless midway through the first quarter.

The Huskies scored on the ensuing possession as Gantz connected on a 49-yard field goal attempt, the longest by a Huskie kicker since Nov. 3, 2015 when Christian Hagan hit a 52-yarder versus Toledo. Harbison kept the drive alive with a six-yard carry to convert a third down as the sophomore tailback rushed for 36 yards on five carries on the drive.

Late in the first half Utah went on a 12-play drive to the Huskie 24-yard line, but a third down sack by Smith meant the Utes had to settle for a 43-yard field goal attempt. The kick sailed wide left and NIU took its 3-0 lead into halftime.

On its first drive of the second half, Utah went 76 yards in nine plays to score the first touchdown of the game. Zack Moss finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give the Utes a 7-3 lead. The second play of the drive got the Utah offense started as Tyler Huntley connected with Jaylen Dixon for a 41-yard completion to move the Utes across midfield.

Huntley finished the night 20-of-31 passing for 286 yards, connecting with Britain Covey eight times for 129 yards. Moss was the leading rusher for the Utes with 66 yards on 16 carries.

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