Blowing a 21-0 halftime lead, the Eastern Michigan Eagles were unable to recover in falling to the Northern Illinois Huskies 31-24 in overtime on a Wednesday night of MACtion.
It was all Eastern Michigan in the first quarter as quarterback Brogan Roback led the Eagles on touchdown drives of 82 and 80 yards. The first drive saw running back Ian Eriksen rush for 39 yards, including a 27-yard scamper for a score. The second was again capped Roback finding star receiver Sergio Bailey II to take a 14-0 lead.
Between those two opening scores by the home team, NIU not only missed out on two trips inside the EMU red zone but also lost starting quarterback Ryan Graham to injury. In stepped freshman quarterback Daniel Santacaterina. The inexperienced quarterback looked overwhelmed early on with an interception thrown to Kyle Rachwal at the NIU 33-yard line.
Eight plays later, the Eagles had a 21-0 lead on one-yard plunge from Eriksen, his second score of the night.
With a 21-0 deficit and a freshman quarterback in the backfield, things looked quite dire for the Huskies. Instead, the young quarterback was able to completely turn the tide by handing off the football. Jordan Huff did the rest, racing 60 yards for a score to pull NIU within 21-7 and make the game interesting. Then Santacaterina got in on the action with a 74-yard pass and catch to Aregeros Turner that suddenly saw EMU’s 21 point lead whittle down to 21-14 with plenty of time to play.
Unable to respond, EMU allowed a 33-yard field goal, barely holding on for a 21-17 lead with a full quarter left to play. The Huskies then added another score, this time a touchdown to take a 24-21 lead, scoring 24 straight points in the game.
Finally, EMU mustered up some sort of response with a 16 play drive that took up over six minutes of the fourth quarter. They pulled as close as the NU seven, but were rebuffed by a confident Huskies defense and had to take a 24-yard field goal attempt to send the game to overtime. Paul Fricano’s kick was good to end regulation tied at 24-24.
Overtime was a mismatch as the Huskies continued to ride the wave of momentum and quickly scored on Huff’s third rushing touchdown of the day. EMU was not as lucky, facing a fourth and one at the 17-yard line. They went with a rush, hoping to earn a first down and keep the drive alive. The NIU defense had other plans, stuffing the Eagles on the fourth down conversion attempt to preserve at 31-24 overtime win over EMU.
With the win, NIU improves to 4-7 on the year and now have a winning record in MAC action. While they are no longer eligible for a bowl game, they are relishing the idea of ruining other team’s plans down the stretch. They finish the season on the Friday after Thanksgiving with a trip to Kent State, hoping to get to 5-7 on the season.
EMU will be kicking themselves for a long time after this game. They had a 21-0 lead and the backup to the backup to the backup in the game at quarterback for NIU. Instead of continuing their dominant play of the first half, they allowed NIU to completely dominate the second half and overtime to the tune of 31 of the final 34 points scored in the game. A seven win season, their first since 1989 is still possible if they are able to win either in their season finale versus CMU or in the postseason.