DeKALB, Ill. — Beyond belief, sitting on a riser with the Northern Illinois background behind him, Frank Solich appeared stoic. He was trying to find the words to match turnovers yet again.
A week ago, he celebrated his 100th win as a Bobcat. On Saturday, he had to talk about the turnover battle his Bobcats lost. The gut-punch was the fact he always talks about how winning the turnover margin wins games. He seemed drained from the ways his team finds ways to lose games: Slow starts, blown leads and turnovers.
Turnovers were the suspect and the Bobcats were the victim as they blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead. Ohio didn’t score a point and turned the ball over once in the final quarter, falling 24-21 to Northern Illinois at Huskie Stadium.
“There were a couple turning points, where if we had gotten it done, the whole course of the game would’ve been changed,” Solich said. “I’m just going to stop there.”
The Huskies started with the ball on their 23-yard line at the start of the fourth quarter, fresh off an Ohio touchdown to end the third quarter.
Marcus Childers promptly made his way down the field at the helm of the NIU offense, spinning and throwing his way down to the red zone. He finished with 80 rushing yards in the quarter.
On the Ohio 26-yard line, Childers threw a ball deep into the back left corner of the north end zone, hoping Spencer Tears could pull it down. Instead, Ohio corner back Jamal Hudson committed pass interference.
Two plays later, Childers scampered into the end zone untouched, just running it right up the middle, picking away at Ohio’s lead.
“Could we have played better on offense? Could we of played better on defense?” Solich said.
On the following drive Nathan Rourke had pressure coming at him from the heart of the Huskies’ defense. Defensive end Sutton Smith reached him first, sacking him and punching the ball out of his hands, which NIU recovered.
Yet again, Childers made quick work and put NIU in the red zone with a 20-yard run. He attempted a pass, Ohio was called for pass interference. Running back Marcus Jones punched it in from a yard out.
NIU had the lead and the momentum.
“I wasn’t looking in that direction, there’s no excuse for not hanging on to the ball, it’s on me” Rourke said, with his voice fading off.
All the Bobcats could muster was a three-and-out, two incompletions and a run. NIU took the ball back and drove down the field, but didn’t score a touchdown because it opted to take two knees to end the game.
In the final 15 minutes of the game, Ohio wasn’t outplayed. It simply set the Huskies up for success.
The late-game carnage included 15 points and 130 yards for the Huskies, taking 6:39 to score and a series of Ohio blunders to turn a hard-earned road win into a puzzling road loss.
Much seems to be unanswered, but this much is true: Ohio is now .500 on the season overall and in the Mid-American Conference. The road that leads to Detroit just saw a road block pop up, and the Bobcats are going to have to find a way to dispose of it quickly.