MOBILE, Ala. (AP) – Martel Moore caught eight passes for 224 yards and a touchdown, and Northern Illinois rallied for a 38-20 victory over Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl on Sunday night.
The Huskies trailed 13-0 late in the first quarter, but the Mid-American Conference champions scored 31 unanswered points on the way to their ninth straight victory. It was the third time this season Northern Illinois (11-3) rallied from a double-digit deficit to win.
Arkansas State (10-3) had its nine-game winning streak snapped. The Sun Belt champions couldn’t overcome five turnovers — including three interceptions thrown by Ryan Aplin.
NIU’s Chandler Harnish completed 18 of 36 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns in his final college game. He came into the game as the nation’s top rushing quarterback, averaging 106.3 yards per game, but was limited to minus-3 on the ground after being slowed by an ankle injury in the second quarter.
Harnish might not have been able to run, but Moore could. His 224 yards receiving were the third-most in a game in school history.
Arkansas State jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, but that was almost disappointing considering the Red Wolves had to settle for two short field goals instead of touchdowns. Brian Davis connected on field goals from 32 and 36 yards before Aplin found the end zone on a 2-yard run.
The missed opportunities kept Northern Illinois close, and after some early trouble on offense, the Huskies made their move.
Harnish hit Perez Ashford on a 9-yard touchdown pass two plays after a disputed spot on fourth down kept the drive alive, pulling the Huskies to 13-7 just before the end of the first quarter.
The Huskies briefly lost Harnish because of his injured left ankle early in the second quarter, but backup Jordan Lynch engineered a 7-play, 78-yard drive that ended on his 3-yard touchdown run to give NIU a 14-13 lead with 4:49 left in the first half.
Harnish returned to lead the Huskies on another touchdown drive just before halftime. Coach Dave Doeren gambled on the final play of the drive, going for the touchdown with 2 seconds remaining instead of a point-blank field goal try. It worked, with Jamal Womble plowing forward for a 1-yard touchdown to give Northern Illinois a 21-13 halftime lead.
Arkansas State was called for a crucial roughing-the-kicker penalty on a fourth down that extended the drive.
Arkansas State was coached by David Gunn, who took over in an interim role after Hugh Freeze left for Mississippi. Both Freeze and the Red Wolves’ new coach — former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn— watched the game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, but were powerless to help as Northern Illinois rallied for the victory.
Arkansas State briefly regained momentum early in the third quarter after Chaz Scales intercepted Harnish’s pass, but Northern Illinois got the ball back three plays later when Jhony Faustin intercepted Aplin. On the next play, Harnish threw a 43-yard touchdown to Moore to extend the lead to 28-13.
Arkansas State briefly pulled within 31-20 on Aplin’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Stockemer, but Northern Illinois responded with an interception that Dechante Durante returned for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Aplin completed 30 of 58 passes for 353 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Northern Illinois’ victory helped the MAC finish with a 4-1 record in bowl games.
By Butch Dill, AP