NIU’s defense bends, doesn’t break

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Northern Illinois linebackers Michael Santacaterina (52) and Tyrone Clark (36) celebrate an interception by teammate Dechane Durante (not pictured) in the second quarter.

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DETROIT – The Golden Flashes had already methodically marched 96 yards in eight plays to cut what had been a double-digit NIU lead to single digits Friday in the MAC Championship game.

Then, Kent State covered 75 yards in four plays in the final minute to force overtime in a game that NIU had seemingly wrapped up only minutes before, suddenly making the final result anything but certain. But as hard as they had labored, the defense knew it had to keep fighting, believing in the end, it would come down to them.

So perhaps, even with all the points on the Ford Field scoreboard, it was appropriate that the Huskies’ second consecutive league title came down to one final defensive stop.

“We just wanted it bad and we just kept fighting,” said senior cornerback Demetrius Stone, who intercepted Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith to end NIU’s 44-37 double overtime win. “When we went into overtime, we didn’t flinch, we weren’t worried. We knew we had to finish the game.”

And finish the defense did.

With the exception of a first-quarter end around and a deep route down the middle of the field early in the second half, the Huskies’ defense succeeded in containing Kent State’s star playmaker, Dri Archer.

The defense had limited Kent State to only two yards of total offense in the second quarter, doing all it needed to preserve NIU’s championship drive. But after the Golden Flashes fought back late to force overtime, the defense resolved to finish the job.

“I felt the defense – we made big stops when we needed to,” said junior defensive tackle Ken Bishop, who made eight tackles in the win.

The defense twice stopped the Golden Flashes on fourth down - first keeping Archer from first downs inside the NIU 10-yard line in regulation before pushing Kent State to fourth down in double overtime.

Huskies coach Dave Doeren said just getting to fourth down was critical, drastically cutting down the options the Golden Flashes had once they were down to their final play. From the sideline, quarterback Jordan Lynch – who had given the defense a lead to protect – never doubted his defensive teammates.

“We had each other’s backs all night,” Lynch said. “Whenever the defense needed to step up, they did and when the offense needed to step up we did so to get that touchdown and watch the defense, everyone was up, cheering the defense on, and we had all the faith in the world in them.”

The defense didn’t let up. And once Stone clutched the ball in the end zone and dropped to a knee, the Huskies were able to exhale, left to see what their BCS future holds after winning their 12th consecutive game.

“It was a great feeling just to make that play for my team,” Stone said. “It was all about the team and getting the win.”


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Will NIU football win the MAC this season?