Ohio upset bid of Northern Illinois falls short

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 4, 2003

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) - P.J. Fleck caught a tying 15-yard touchdown pass with 1:42 remaining and set up quarterback Josh Haldi's 1-yard score in overtime as No. 17 Northern Illinois survived a scare to beat Ohio 30-23 Saturday night.

Fleck had 14 catches for a school-record 234 yards, including the two big plays that helped the Huskies (5-0, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) remain unbeaten.

After Haldi's score on the first overtime possession, Northern Illinois stopped Ohio (1-4, 0-2) on four straight plays to seal the win. The game ended on Kursten Strothman's sack as the Huskies swarmed the field in celebration.

Email newsletter signup

After beating three teams from BCS conferences to open the season, Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak was worried about a letdown in the conference opener against the Bobcats, whose only win was a 17-3 victory over Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State.

It looked as if that would happen until Fleck came through at the end.

On fourth-and-4 with the Huskies trailing 23-16, Fleck beat his defender in the left side of the end zone and just barely dragged his right foot in bounds. He had five receptions for 52 yards during the drive that covered 80 yards in 12 plays.

Ohio had taken the seven-point lead with 10:55 to go on a 3-yard run by Ray Huston. The score was set up by a 27-yard pass from Ryan Hawk to Adam Porter, and the defense nearly made it stick.

Haldi finished 26-of-46 for 310 yards with one touchdown rushing and two passing.

The Huskies took a 16-13 lead early in the second half when Haldi rolled out to his right and found Fleck open along the sideline for a 42-yard gain to the 6. The Huskies scored on the next play when Haldi faked a throw to his left and hit tight end Brad Cieslak for a touchdown.

On Ohio's next possession, the Bobcats were stopped at midfield and faced fourth-and-6 when coach Brian Knorr called for a fake punt. It worked perfectly. Punter Matthew Miller took the snap and ran around the left end for a 14-yard gain and a first down, setting up Greg DiMarino's game-tying 40-yard field goal.

Ohio scored on its opening drive when Chris Jackson sidestepped a pair of defenders and ran it up the middle for a 17-yard touchdown, the first of his career. DiMarino's extra point attempt was wide right - his third miss in 11 tries this season.

The touchdown capped a 13-play, 81-yard drive. But it proved costly for the Bobcats.

Ohio lost quarterback Fred Ray when he was driven into the turf after an 11-yard gain. Ray, the team's leading rusher at 78 yards a game, left with a sprained right shoulder and didn't return.

Ray was replaced by Hawk, and Ohio didn't miss a beat.

Hawk threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Hackett to give the Bobcats a 13-6 lead. Hawk avoided the rush on the scoring play, scrambled to his right and hit a Hackett across the middle for the score.

Northern Illinois kicker Steve Azar had field goals of 38, 47 and 29 yards to pull the Huskies to 13-9 at halftime.

The seldom-used Jackson finished with 82 yards on 19 carries. He entered the game with three carries for 7 yards.