West Point, N.Y. – There were 1,009 yards of total offense Saturday at Michie Stadium.
Over 1,000 total yards. Northern Illinois and Army combined for a total of four punts.
The Black Knights ran their triple option to perfection to the tune of 486 rushing yards. The Huskies seemed to always answer, and scored a lot of their points rather easily and quickly.
As the final minutes ticked down, Army had the ball and was driving. It seemed all too familiar to last year’s shootout at Kansas. But this time, NIU came up with a big stop when it needed to, stopping Army quarterback Trent Steelman on a fourth down in Huskie territory. NIU would run out the clock for a 41-40 win.
“First and foremost, just like everybody else said, a lot of credit goes to Army. … It was a battle, it was a fight,” said NIU outside linebacker Tyrone Clark, who led the Huskies with 17 tackles. “We didn’t expect it to come easy, but the game swings so we just had to believe in each other.”
The NIU (2-1) defense, which was much-maligned for a good time last season and couldn’t seem to get any stops Saturday, made the biggest play of the game when it needed to.
On top of that, the guy who made the most important tackle of the contest was a player making his first career start – redshirt freshman middle linebacker Boomer Mays.
Mays started in place of Victor Jacques, who has been recovering from a knee injury.
Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren didn’t want Jacuqes playing due to Army’s cut blocking. Mays finished with seven tackles (two for loss), the biggest one coming with less than two minutes left. Michael Santacaterina started in the middle for last week’s win against Tennessee-Martin, but Doeren thought Mays would be the better fit Saturday.
“Boomer’s a very aggressive player. This game kind of fit what Boomer is. He’s a downhill thumper,” Doeren said. “So this was a good game for his skill set. … That was [Mays’] first career start today. It’s a good job by him.”
If not for Mays’ key stop, NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch’s day would have went to waste. The junior was 18 of 27 through the air with 342 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. He ran for another 125 yards, including an 88-yard TD. Lynch and wide receiver Martel Moore had a nice rhythm going, with NIU’s top receiver catching an 8-yard touchdown pass with 4:29 left in the game to give the Huskies a one-point lead. Moore would finish the game with 134 receiving yards and two touchdown catches.
Lynch should have had another touchdown run in the third quarter. With the ball at the Army 4-yard line, NIU called the quarterback run play that’s worked so well this season. Lynch took the snap, got to the goal line and reached over. However, the ball came loose and the Black Knights recovered.
After the game, Lynch admitted he shouldn’t have reached over, but replays clearly showed the ball had before the plane of the goal line before it was fumbled.
“[The coaches] in the press box, and that’s kind of what I rely on is the guys that see the replays up there, said he crossed the goal line and the ground caused the fumble,” Doeren said. “So that was what I was going off of. I couldn’t see what was going on from my vantage point.”
Thankfully for the Huskies, that call didn’t come back to bite them, though for some time it looked like it very well might.