AMHERST, N.Y. – Chandler Harnish already had moved on to overtime.
Maybe Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren thought Saturday's game at Buffalo could end in regulation. Maybe he kept coaching, sending his max extra point block defense on the field, hoping Bulls kicker Peter Fardon would miss a potential game-tying extra point with 14 seconds left.
"Play to the whistle, every second on the clock," Doeren said.
But when Fardon lined up, Harnish anticipated what seemed inevitable.
"I was thinking about overtime," NIU's senior quarterback said. "I knew they had come up with a max block, so we were hoping for the best. But to be honest with you, we were thinking not only about overtime, but we were thinking about what we were going to do when we got the ball back."
The Huskies only needed to kneel down.
Fardon's extra point sailed two feet left of the uprights, and NIU held on for a wild 31-30 win in front of 13,370 fans at UB Stadium. After seven penalties, five turnovers and three muffed punts, it was a fitting way for the Bulls to fall to 2-6 and 1-3 in the Mid-American Conference East. For NIU (5-3, 3-1 MAC West), it was a relief.
"I was just trying to block it," said senior middle linebacker Pat Schiller, who finished with a game-high 11 tackles. “I didn't really see anything. I was just trying to block it. I tried to go through [the line of scrimmage]. I didn't get a hand on [the football] obviously, so I turned around. He missed it and … thank God. I mean, karma or something. We were doing something right that we lucked out.
“Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. We were lucky right there.”
It was hard to blame Harnish for thinking overtime.
An extra point attempt is the most predictable football play. College kickers go their entire careers without missing one. Fardon had made all 13 this season, his first as a kicker.
Beyond overwhelming odds, Buffalo had momentum.
After scoring touchdowns with little resistance on its first two second-half possessions, NIU coasted. The Bulls outscored the Huskies 20-0 in the fourth. The final score came on a 3-yard pass from senior quarterback Chazz Anderson to receiver Ed Young, capping a 14-play, 88-yard drive.
“First and foremost, I'd like to give Buffalo credit,” Schiller said. “They had some of the best players I've seen all year with the running back and the quarterback. They're phenomenal players, and they were able to fight back from a deficit. Give them so much credit because they fought with us. It came down to that final point.”
NIU's defense held Buffalo to 7 of 18 on third down, its third straight week with good numbers on that play. But the Huskies couldn't stop Anderson, who completed 35 of 53 for 404 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. They also allowed 112 yards on 28 carries to sophomore running back Branden Oliver, who entered second in MAC rushing.
Buffalo made every conceivable play in the fourth quarter, even an Anderson completion with his off, left hand on fourth down. A successful extra point was the easiest thing the Bulls had to do during their comeback attempt.
"I did find that I do have a football team that is going to fight," Bulls coach Jeff Quinn said. "Chazz made some plays today when things weren't quite there, and he was able to make those plays. We were 4 for 4 on fourth downs, which were huge to keep us in the game."
After rushing for a career-high 229 yards a week ago, Harnish was held to 67 on 12 carries including a 6-yard touchdown in the first half's final minute. The senior struggled passing, finishing 11 of 26 for 150 yards.
Running back Jasmin Hopkins had 55 yards on 19 carries and scored three touchdowns for the second straight week.
“That's one of the goals we have every week, downhill mentality,” Hopkins said.
The win set up a much-anticipated Nov. 1 matchup at Toledo, which may decide who wins the MAC West and advances to Detroit for the conference championship game. But, like overtime, Doeren could wait to think about the Rockets.
His team won its first game away from Huskie Stadium, improving to 1-3 outside DeKalb this season. There will be plenty to work on during the upcoming bye week, but it's always easier after a win.
“It felt good. I wish it was a lot cleaner,” Doeren said. “We talked a lot this week about self-inflicted wounds this week, and there were too many penalties. But it felt great.”