Arkansas State quickly went up 6-0 off of a strong kickoff return and an absurd flea flicker play that the Huskies should have been ready for. The Red Wolves watched the MAC Championship game, apparently. Then a kick catching interference led way to ASU going up 13-0 to start the game off. NIU was off on offense, the Red Wolves had come to play on D. Slow starts were nothing new to this NIU squad.
QB Jordan Lynch, So
The next series, the Huskies were on. Chandler Harnish threw two 33-yard strikes and the Huskies were gonna tie this one up. But no, Harnish runs off the field, limping on his ankle like some sort of wounded animal. It looked serious. Harnish, the man who's been playing for as long as I've been blogging, our MVP, was out of the game. I knew that we had more horses on offense, but he just made everything go. I was worried. This could have been Colt McCoy going down against Alabama two years ago.
In comes Jordan Lynch, who inexplicably had touched the ball three times already in failed attempts. Was Harnish beat up before the game? Is that why Lynch was getting snaps? We'll never know, but now Lynch was in for good.
7-yard loss on a sack and a missed field goal of 33 yds. We were toast.
Next drive. Lynch steps up and throws a 44-yard bomb to Martel Moore, who just had a beast of a game. Then all of a sudden a 16 yd strike to Ashford. This guy can play, I say to myself. Then he showed off his patented running back skills to juke the defender and punch it in to the endzone to go up 14-13. Harnish magically healed (he des that a lot) and entered the next series, but Lynch showed he could play.
RB Jamal Womble, Jr
The junior was hyped by many to be something this season, but it took him until the bowl game to finally show it on the field. Womble wombled his way for 25 yds and a TD on only 6 carries. Somehow, that lead the team. I guess Doeren's plan was just to run right at them with power backs and it worked for the most part. ASU was an aggressive defense and we caught them through the air, but on the drive that Harnish returned on, Womble punched it in.
Up 28-13 in the 3rd quarter, Womble had three straight rushes for 13, 7 and -1 yds. Just trying to break the will of the defense and run some clock. That drive would be haulted by a false start penalty and a sack, but Womble showed what he could do. The winter practices must have really helped him out. If he returns in shape next year he could be a starter in a vacant position.
It's worth mentioning that Cameron Bell also had a 7 yd carry during the first scoring drive. Big backs: it's the Wisconsin way.
FB Pat McAvoy, Sr
The Huskies finally got some traction going in the first. They knew they had to answer the scores with offensive points of their own, but it was a struggle. The Huskies had already gone for it on 4th down in the drive when they lined up for a field goal on 4th and 4 from the ASU 15.
The holder, Ryan Neir, passed the ball ahead to Pat McAvoy on a fake field goal and he got the first down. He somehow got the first down, even though looking at the magical TV yellow line you could see that he was short. Forward progress and a measurement. Non-reviewable. They got it. It must have been a miracle or something that the senior fullback got this first down to get the momentum back. Perez Ashford would score soon after on a long-outstretched touchdown play.
DE Kyle Jenkins, Sr
This would be the man to replace Sean Progar, who was charged for a DUI right after the MACC and was suspended? He's been so many injuries and positions I don't even know where to start with the guy. He had an extremely productive game. 7 tackles, 1.5 TFL, half a sack and 2 tipped balls. Doeren put him into the starting lineup during the regular season to shake things up on defense and he helped to that then and now on the defensive side of the ball. It's a shame that he's graduating, because he's been through so much and was such an asset to the team on the practice field.
Sophomore Stephen O'Neal also was a guy that has been coming on strong lately. He only had one sack, but it was a 14-yd loss and forced fumble that went to the Huskies in the 3rd.
Overall it was a very strange bowl and Northern Illinois couldn't have won it without the depth they had on offense. While some important seniors are going to be graduating, a lot of these players that stepped up are returning for next year, something that couldn't get here soon enough.