Antario Brown gets back on track in career performance against Akron

NIU running back Antario Brown gets past University of Akron defensive back Tyson Durant for a third quarter touchdown on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in Akron, Ohio, at InfoCision Stadium.

AKRON, Ohio – It was a day that Antario Brown figures to never forget.

Or maybe not, considering he did something similar in high school.

The NIU junior running back had a remarkable day Saturday afternoon in Akron, rushing for 280 yards and four touchdowns to highlight the Huskies’ impressive 55-14 victory over the Zips. He was named the Mid-American Conference West Offensive Player of the Week on Monday

“I am happy for myself. It’s been kind of a slow start for me the first four games of the season,” said Brown, who only had 339 rushing yards entering the game – including an 80-yard run against Toledo. “But I am just overall excited for me and my guys to be able to come up with the win, too.

“I am happy for myself. It’s been kind of a slow start for me the first four games of the season. But I am just overall excited for me and my guys to be able to come up with the win, too.

Brown’s exploits, which came on the heels of his 152-yard rushing performance in last week’s tough 35-33 loss to the Rockets, helped NIU snap a four-game losing streak as it returns to DeKalb for consecutive home games against Ohio and Eastern Michigan.

But the 280, which is the highest FBS total so far this season, brought back memories for the 5-foot-10, 219-pound Savannah, Georgia, native.

“I kind of did something like this in high school my junior year,” said Brown, referring to his days at Beach High School. “It was exactly 280, which is funny.”

Brown didn’t reveal if he also found the end zone four times in that game, but he had no trouble locating it against the Zips, especially in the second quarter when he reeled off touchdown runs of 66 and 58 yards to ignite the Huskies’ 28-point second-quarter splurge that put the game away after 30 minutes.

“He made guys miss, he was explosive and dynamic,” Huskies coach Thomas Hammock said. “I love the way he attacked the week. He was acting like he was banged up this week from a knee injury last week. He went about his business, and I was proud of him.”

For good measure, Brown added to an already great afternoon with TD runs of 46 and 50 yards within the first six minutes of the second half. All four of his scoring dashes were behind the right side of the NIU line.

“I love my O-line, I love running behind [right tackle] Nolan Potter. He is a great blocker. That right side is like a huge part of our offense. Even the left side is, but I want to put the spotlight on Nolan Potter, he is a great blocker. So is [center] Pete Nygra, [right guard] John Champe and everybody else.”

Hammock also had praise for the guys up front.

“Our offensive line was outstanding,” he said. “They blocked. ... That team gave up an average of 90 yards a game rushing, and we had over 300 yards, and that is a credit to the offensive line. AB obviously gets the credit, but he wasn’t getting touched until 8 yards [past the line of scrimmage]. And then obviously you have to win the one-on-one matchup.”

With the NIU offense in high gear Saturday – six of the team’s TDs were longer than 33 yards – Brown hopes it is a sign of positive things to come for him and the Huskies as the season’s second half gets underway next weekend.

“It is always fun winning, and this game especially because we needed it. Just putting the team on my back with help from guys like Rocky [Lombardi], Kacper [Rutkiewicz], Trayvon [Rudolph]. It is always comforting because you have guys around you who can make those plays, too. I believe any one of those guys could have had a game like I had today.”

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