AKRON, Ohio – [NIU news release] Antario Brown ran for 280 yards and four touchdowns on just 13 carries to lead the Northern Illinois University Huskies to a 55-14 Mid-American Conference victory over Akron Saturday at InfoCision Stadium.
Brown’s day tied Kentucky’s Ray Davis for the most rushing yards by a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) player this season and was the most rushing yards by a Huskie since Jordan Lynch ran for 321 yards versus Western Michigan on November 26, 2013. He scored on runs of 66, 58, 46 and 50 yards to record the best day of his NIU career and become just the sixth player in Huskie history to run for 280 or more yards in a game. His four touchdowns were the most by a Huskie since Joel Bouagnon scored five rushing touchdowns versus Bowling Green on November 1, 2016.
“I thought [Antario] made guys miss,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. “He was explosive, he was dynamic. I love the way he attacked the week. He went about his business, and I was proud of him. If he plays like he did today, he’s one of the best in this conference but he’s got to do it consistently. Consistency is going to be the key for him.”
NIU’s 55 points were the most under Hammock, and the most since the Huskies defeated Ball State 63-17 on November 9, 2017. NIU gained 571 yards of total offense on 52 plays, including 380 rushing yards on just 35 carries. The Huskies averaged 10.9 yards per carry as a team while Brown’s average of 21.5 yards per rush broke the NIU record of 17.6 by Stacey Robinson versus Cincinnati on November 18, 1989.
“Our offensive line was outstanding,” Hammock said. “[Akron] was giving up 90 yards a game rushing and we had over 300 yards rushing. That’s a credit to the offensive line. AB [Brown] gets the credit, but he wasn’t touched for 7-8 yards on most of those runs.”
The Huskies (2-4, 1-1 MAC) scored six rushing touchdowns with Gavin Williams adding a three-yard score and a one-yard TD to Brown’s quartet of scores.
“I love my offensive line,” Brown said. “I love running behind Nolan [Potter], John [Champe] and those guys. [Fullback] Brock is a dawg.”
NIU opened the game with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, with Kacper Rutkiewicz scoring on a 64-yard reception from quarterback Rocky Lombardi. The touchdown was NIU’s first on an opening drive this season.
Akron (1-5, 0-2 MAC) came back to tie the score with an 11-play, 65-yard drive, helped by a pass interference penalty that gave the Zips the ball on the NIU four-yard line. Three plays later, Akron quarterback Tahj Bullock scored from one yard out.
The Antario Brown/Huskie offense show hit another gear in the second quarter and by halftime, NIU led 35-7. Brown gained 160 yards on seven carries in the period with two scores, his first – from 66-yards out – giving NIU a 14-7 lead, and his second – of 58 yards – closing out NIU’s 28-point outburst. In between, Williams scored on a three-yard run one play after Lombardi connected with Trayvon Rudolph on a 42-yard completion. After a second consecutive three-and-out by the Huskie defense, Lombardi hit Grayson Barnes for a 34-yard score for Barnes’ first NIU touchdown.
NIU’s defense, meanwhile, forced Akron into four three-and-outs in the second quarter alone. Akron finished with just 253 yards of total offense, 107 rushing, and punted eight times. Huskies Roy Williams, Devonte O’Malley, James Ester and George Gumbs each recorded sacks and Nate Valcarcel collected his second interception of the season.
“They played their [tails] off today,” Hammock said of the NIU defense. “We got punched in the mouth [by Toledo] last week. We had some adversity, and they responded. We had to change our coverage with No. 10 [Bullock] in there and account for the quarterback in the run game.”
The Huskie defense continued to shut down Akron in the third quarter while the offense did not lay off the gas pedal, scoring three times with Brown scoring from 46 and 50 yards on back-to-back drives. Williams’ one-yard touchdown run was once again set up by Rudolph whose 36-yard run put the Huskies at the two-yard line.
“The kids kept playing, they didn’t look at the scoreboard,” Hammock said. “We were up 35-7 at halftime and we scored 21 points in the third quarter, that’s what a mature football team does. The players responded today. They kept their heads down, played one snap at a time after a good week of preparation. We had great balance, different guys stepped up in different moments.”
Lombardi was an efficient 10-of-15 passing for 191 yards and Rudolph caught three passes for 58 yards and had two carries for 35 yards on the ground. Jaden Dolphin led the Huskie defense in tackles with seven.