The NIU football team kept the Kent State offense in check to knock off the Flashes, 41-23, on Saturday to claim the MAC title.
It was the first MAC championship for third-year coach Thomas Hammock. The Huskies were 0-6 last year.
Here are the main takeaways from the game:
Icing on the cake
Kent State (7-6) was hanging around and trailed 24-10 in the third quarter.
But the Huskies again answered with a long, possession-draining drive that went 75 yards in eight plays, taking 4:33 off the clock.
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi capped off the drive by going 5 yards on a naked bootleg, picking up the third and 3 and pushing the lead to 31-10 with 10:48 left. Later in the fourth quarter Lombardi scored on the same play, his third touchdown of the day.
After allowing more than 50 points and 682 yards in a 52-47 loss at Kent State, the NIU defense had a complete reversal.
Not only did NIU force two interceptions, they kept Dustin Crum and the Falcon offense under control.
The Flashes managed just 391 total yards. After Marquez Cooper ran for 173 on 23 carries last time, he ran six times for five yards. Crum threw for 128 yards on 11 of 21 passing after going 20 for 30 for 322 yards.
Interceptions when they matter
NIU hadn’t intercepted the ball much this year — just once before Saturday to be exact.
But the Huskies got two on Saturday, including a pick-six from C.J. Brown when the Huskies needed it most.
The Huskies were up 17-3 and just had a drive go from first and 10 at the Kent State 34 to fourth and 33 on the NIU 43. Matt Ference punted and Kent State started on its 20.
On the first play, Dillon Thomas hurried Crum and Brown jumped the route, taking it to the house from 26 yards out, pushing the lead to 24-3 with 3:55 left in the third.
Picking their spots
Before Brown’s pick-six, Thomas came away with an underthrown pass by Crum for an interception, the second of the year and first of the game for NIU. That started a 15-play, 81-yard drive by the Huskies that ended with a 1-yard run by Lombardi to push the lead to 17-0 in the second quarter.
Crum was 3 for 7 for 27 yards and was sacked twice in the first half as NIU shout out a team in the first half for the first time this year.
Letting a score get away
The Huskies had a chance to build the lead out even more at the end of the first half, but Lombardi was intercepted trying to find Cole Tucker in the end zone.
NIU took over with 4:59 left in the second quarter at their own 32. They began a methodical drive down to the Kent State 18. But Nico Bolden, who was twice called for either holding or pass interference, read the play and jumped the pass intended for Tucker.