LAWRENCE, Kan. – With all the momentum shifts and big plays in the final quarter of Northern Illinois' gut-wrenching loss to Kansas on Saturday, the biggest key will widely go unrecognized.
The Jayhawks' last possession started with 4:49 left.
"We thought that we would probably get the ball back with a chance to win the game," senior quarterback Chandler Harnish said. "... We were just doing our thing, we were rolling, and we were expecting to get the ball back."
The Huskies didn't, of course, until only eight seconds remained. By then it was too late, just enough time for Harnish to heave a desperation pass that fell incomplete, cementing Kansas' 45-42 win.
During the upcoming week, everyone will talk about KU quarterback Jordan Webb's game-winning touchdown pass to D.J. Beshears on fourth-and-goal with nine seconds left. I was much more impressed with Kansas coach Turner Gill's game management.
Keep in mind, his team trailed four points. Killing clock and settling for a field goal wasn't an option. It was touchdown or lose. Those stakes create urgency, which usually leads to impatience.
But on a night when neither defense could slow the opponent's offense – there were 996 yards combined – Gill kept proper perspective.
"They executed it about (perfect)," Harnish said. "It had to be nerve-wracking for them too, because fourth-and-five, or whatever it was. Credit to them though. They made one more play than we did today."
And that's only because NIU didn't get the chance. Harnish had just led NIU on an 11-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to take a 42-38 lead. It only took 3:41.
As the second half progressed, this game became simple. The winner was going to be the team that had the football last. NIU coach Dave Doeren said he was aware. Everyone was aware.
NIU scores fast. Half of the Huskies touchdown drives took less than two minutes. That said, going 69 yards in eight seconds is asking too much.
"At two minutes (left), I wanted the ball, and I saw that they were running the clock down," said receiver Martel Moore, who finished with four catches, 45 yards and a touchdown.
Had NIU gotten those two minutes, it would've at least had a chance to send the game to overtime with a field goal. And maybe more than that.
"Our offense wanted to get back on the field because you saw out there they couldn't stop us," Moore said. "Every time we were on the field, we were going to score. We knew, if we had enough time, we were going to score. So it was frustrating."
– Ryan Wood is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.