TOLEDO, Ohio – A freshman returned his first two kickoffs for touchdowns, a receiver tied a Mid-American Conference record with five touchdowns, and 123 points were scored, the most ever in the Glass Bowl’s 75-year existence.
But all that matters after Northern Illinois’ 63-60 win against Toledo on Tuesday for NIU is that the Huskies are in the driver’s seat in the MAC West. NIU (6-3, 4-1 MAC) are now tied with the Rockets (5-4, 4-1 MAC) atop the division and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
“I just care that we scored more points than them,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “We won today against a really good football team.”
In perhaps the most pivotal game of the season for the Huskies and Rockets, freshman Tommylee Lewis delivered the first two blows for NIU in spectacular fashion. Lewis scored on the first two kickoffs with runs of 100 and 95 yards, the longest two returns in Glass Bowl history.
When quarterback Austin Dantin was on the field, the Toledo offense was nearly unstoppable. On the first six drives he was in the game, he threw four touchdowns to Eric Page and ran for another one. The Rockets kicked a field goal on the other drive. Page caught five touchdowns in the game to tie a MAC record with Randy Moss.
Perhaps the only reason the Huskies were able to stay close – Dantin took two drives off. On the third and fourth drives, coach Tim Beckman inserted quarterback Terrance Owens, per his usual gameplan. The Rockets didn’t score on either drive.
Meanwhile, NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish threw three touchdown passes to Nathan Palmer and another to Da’Ron Brown to make the score 42-38 at the end of the third quarter. After Harnish threw his fifth touchdown of the game, Page caught his fifth, but Toledo failed on a two-point conversion and the score was 49-47.
Harnish finished the game with six touchdown passes, 265 yards passing and 133 yards rushing, cracking the 10,000-yard mark for his career.
Just when the Huskies had the chance to take a multiple-score lead, Pat McAvoy fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Toledo scored to take a 53-49 lead with 10:30 left.
The teams then exchanged rushing touchdowns by Jasmin Hopkins and Adonis Thomas.
The Huskies had first-and-goal at the 3 with just over a minute remaining, and it looked like all the Huskies would need to do was punch in a short touchdown. It wasn’t that easy after delay of game and false start penalties pushed them back 10 yards.
Harnish, though, once again came through, this time with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Perez Ashford.
The Huskies led 63-60 and stopped the Rockets on the next drive.
After the wackiest game in a wild season, one in which the teams combined for 1,121 yards and 60 first downs, the Huskies could take a breath.
They are now only three wins away from a return to the MAC Championship game.
“I know I’m not sleeping tonight,” Harnish said.