Created:Tuesday, November 1, 2011 5:00 p.m.CDT
Updated:Tuesday, November 1, 2011 9:48 p.m.CDT
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Live blog: NIU at Toledo

Final: NIU 63, Toledo 60

In a wild game from start to finish, Northern Illinois beat Toledo 63-60 on a 4-yard pass from Chandler Harnish to receiver Perez Ashford with 19 seconds left in regulation. The lead improves the Huskies record to 6-3, 4-1 MAC West and gives them control of the division race with three games remaining. The Rockets ensuing, potential game-winning drive ended at its 22-yard line, but not before NIU survived a lateral on the last play.

Check HuskieWire for full postgame coverage later Tuesday.

End third quarter: NIU 42, Toledo 38

Neither defense is going to stop the other team's offense. As the third quarter becomes the fourth, you get the feeling the team that wins will be the offense that plays cleanest.

The Huskies lead 42-38 entering the final 15 minutes. The Rockets are facing a second and 6 from NIU's 14-yard line when the fourth begins. This is turning into a game for the ages, and should be a really fun finish.

Halftime: NIU 28, Toledo 24

Of all the highlights, touchdowns and long special teams returns, the first half's biggest play was something that didn't happen at all.

On Northern Illinois' final possession, senior quarterback Chandler Harnish was called for a fumble after a 14-yard run. The play would've given Toledo the football at the Huskies' 35-yard line, still with two timeouts. Instead, the play was overturned after an official's review, cementing NIU's 28-24 halftime lead.

The first half certainly matched the pregame hype. NIU and Toledo ran fastbreak offenses better than their basketball teams, combining for 26 first downs and 443 yards.

Harnish was an efficient 7 of 12 for 135 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, his best passing half in a while. He added 45 rushing yards on six carries. Senior receiver Nathan Palmer had three catches for 101 yards and two touchdowns, the second a 71 yarder that took advantage of Toledo's busted coverage.

Toledo quarterback Austin Dantin has also been efficient, finishing the first half 11 of 19 for 138 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Rockets coach Tim Beckman controversially inserted his No. 2 quarterback, Terrance Owens, after his team scored two quick touchdowns to answer NIU freshman Tommylee Lewis kickoff returns for scores. The decision altered momentum back to NIU and – in my opinion – was the major key in the first half.

Toledo will get the football to start the second half. Dantin likely will be on the field.

End first quarter: NIU 21, Toledo 14

Hello, Tommylee Lewis.

The Northern Illinois freshman justified coach Dave Doeren's decision to discard his redshirt in one play, a 100-yard opening kickoff return for touchdown. Lewis then followed it up with a 95-yard touchdown return the next time he touched the football.

Those two plays highlighted an absolutely wild opening quarter, helping NIU take a 21-14 lead after one. And NIU is driving with a first down at its 44-yard line as it begins the second.

After two quick touchdowns with starting quarterback Austin Dantin, Toledo coach Tim Beckman went to his other quarterback, Terrance Owens, for the Rockets third drive. It was a questionable decision. The Huskies forced their first punt of the night. It will be interesting to see if Dantin gets the call on Toledo's first second-quarter drive.

NIU's third touchdown came on a 6-yard pass from Chandler Harnish to Nathan Palmer. Palmer was huge on the drive, also having a 24-yard reception on 4th-and-3.

Kickoff: NIU at Toledo

Awkward way for #NIU to take the field. Half the Huskies were still leaving the locker room when they began to sway. Toledo's band was still leaving the field. One member – not sure if it was a trombone player – was pushed over and nearly trampled.

Not a great omen. But here we are, kickoff. Sixty minutes to decide the West favorite.

Toledo won the toss and elected to defer. NIU will start with the ball, and a great opportunity to seize early momentum.

20 minutes before kickoff: NIU at Toledo

Let's look at five keys to a NIU victory.

1. Commit early to the option

It's a beautiful, November night in northern Ohio, with the temperature hovering near 60 degrees and the skies clear. It will be tempting for NIU to open the game with its passing attack. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada must say no to the throw. The Huskies’ best offense this season has been their option. Run it early, run it often, utilize the MAC’s best offensive line, and NIU will stay competitive.

2. Tackling

It’s always important, even more so today. Toledo’s offense is based on screens, taking advantage of overpursuing defenders, and sloppy tackling. It’s not enough to get into position to make a play. NIU’s defense has to finish plays with solid technique. That means wrap up.

3. Third-down defense

Both offenses are loaded. The team that gets its offense on the field longest will probably win. That makes getting off the field on third down – something NIU has improved at recently – absolutely essential.

4. Special, special teams

The third phase hadn’t been kind to NIU until last week. Against Buffalo, it was a major reason the Huskies won. If that continues tonight, NIU’s chances of winning are much greater. Meanwhile, it can’t win with poor special teams.

5. Quiet the Glass Bowl

It’s been NIU’s house of horrors. This season, Toledo has had especially good crowds for its home games. Expect another one tonight. In order to end the streak of disappointments at the Glass Bowl, the Huskies must get off to a good start. Do that, and it will take some of the sting off the crowd.

40 minutes before kickoff: NIU at Toledo

Time for predictions ...

This is a winnable game, and I find it utterly laughable that NIU is 9.5-point underdogs in some places. NIU might struggle in the Glass Bowl – to say the least – where it is 2-18 all-time and hasn't won since 2005. But the Huskies aren't getting blown out, and they will win if they commit to playing option football early. That said, I can't remember the last time that happened, and if NIU doesn't establish its offensive line early it could be a frustrating night. Toledo 38, NIU 34. – Ryan Wood

If NIU hadn't almost given up a 21-point lead to Buffalo last week, I might be inclined to pick the Huskies. And like Ryan has said, NIU can win this game. Still, all logic points me toward picking to Toledo. The Huskies have had very little success in this stadium, and Toledo is playing really well. The Rockets win in a shootout 46-38. – Anthony Zilis

60 minutes before kickoff: NIU at Toledo

TOLEDO, Ohio – This is the game everyone waited months to see. And, fortunately, the stakes are exactly what they were expected to be.

A Mid-American Conference West Division champion won't be crowned tonight when Northern Illinois and Toledo kickoff at 6 p.m. at the Glass Bowl on ESPN2. The winner will distinguish itself in the division race, grabbing a clear lead with three games to go.

Who's it going to be?

You'll get predictions and keys soon enough. For now, let me start out with this stat. When NIU beat Toledo 65-30 last season – a game, obviously, still close to Huskie fans' hearts – it had 584 yards and nine touchdowns. Of that, 422 yards were rushing, and seven touchdowns came on the ground.

I believe NIU can run the football on Toledo. It's more a matter of will they? The answer – and commitment – strongly dictates the outcome.

– Ryan Wood, rwood@shawmedia.com

Will the NIU football team play for the MAC title this year?
Yes
No
Too soon to tell