A third quarter interception return for a touchdown by Ja’don Rucker-Furlow proved to be the difference as Miami claimed a 13-7 victory over the Northern Illinois University Huskies on Wednesday night at Huskie Stadium.
With the win, Miami claimed the inaugural Mallory Cup, the new trophy dedicated during the game in honor of the late Bill Mallory, who coached both schools to Mid-American Conference Championships.
Defense controlled the contest as the Huskies and RedHawks combined for just 570 yards of total offense, including just 248 in the second half. NIU recorded eight tackles for loss, led by 2.5 from junior Antonio Jones-Davis (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach) who also finished with a team-best 10 tackles. The Huskie defense did not surrender a touchdown on the night, with Miami’s only TD coming on the pick six.
“Our defense played good enough to win; our special teams played good enough to win; we made too many mistakes on offense to win the game,” said NIU Head Coach Rod Carey. “Give Miami credit, but we made too many mistakes, penalties were a part of that, turnovers were a part, dropped passes. This was probably our most disappointing offensive performance of the season.”
Despite rushing for 212 yards on 37 carries and totaling 369 yards of total offense overall, the Huskies were hurt by nine penalties for 90 yards, including five holding calls.
After Miami scored the only points of the first half on a 30-yard field goal from Sam Sloman, NIU took the lead on its first drive of the second half when junior Marcus Jones (Chicago, Ill./Brother Rice) scored from 29 yards out to give the Huskies a 7-3 advantage. NIU needed just five plays to go 80 yards, including a 37-yard connection from sophomore Marcus Childers (Adairsville, Ga./Adairsville) to junior Spencer Tears (Chicago, Ill./H.L. Richards) as the Huskies took a four-point lead.
Miami answered with a field goal on its next possession as the RedHawks cut the Huskie lead to 7-6 with 7:32 to play in the third quarter. The Miami drive went 53 yards in 11 plays, culminating in a 39-yard field goal from Sloman to cut the deficit to 7-6.
The RedHawks took the lead back on the second play of NIU’s ensuing drive as Rucker-Furlow, a true freshman, stepped in front of an out pass from Childers for an interception and went 28 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to give Miami a 13-7 lead.
Following that play, the next 10 possessions resulted in punts by both teams with Miami having the better of the field position throughout that stretch. In the fourth quarter, NIU’s best field position to start a drive was its own 20-yard line.
“The field position goes back to the mistakes,” Carey said.
With 5:31 to play in the fourth quarter, NIU started a drive on its own 13-yard line and Childers found senior Jauan Wesley (Markham, Ill./Thornton Township/Iowa State) for 18 yards on the first play of the drive. The Huskies picked up another first down and moved to midfield, but were unable to convert a fourth and two as they turned the ball over on downs with just under three minutes to play.
The Huskie defense forced a three-and-out from Miami, its sixth of the game, as NIU got the ball back with 2:28 left, but the Huskies were unable to pick up a first down as Miami held on for the victory.
Sophomore Tre Harbison (Shelby, N.C./Crest/Virginia) had his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season, and his third consecutive, as he finished with 103 yards on 16 carries.
NIU, which clinched the MAC West Division Championship on Tuesday night with Western Michigan’s loss to Ball State, saw its six-game winning streak broken. The Huskies fell to 7-4 overall and 6-1 in conference play; Miami improved to 5-6 overall and 5-2 in the MAC.