Huskies upset No. 18 Delaware

Huskies upset No. 18 Delaware

By Chris Estrada

BROOKLINE – Northeastern freshman kicker Mat Johnson never missed a field goal during his playing career at Ankeny High School in Ankeny, Iowa, with a career-long kick of 52 yards.

So a 35-yarder should be just another one. Now add in these elements: four seconds left in a tied game against a team that is just three years separated from a national college title.

Just another field goal, right?

Right. The Iowan booted the ball through the uprights as time expired to hand the Huskies a 27-24 victory over No. 18 Delaware at Parsons Field last Saturday. After opening the season with five straight road games of which they lost four, Northeastern heads into a bye week with some much-needed momentum.

Just another field goal. Well, at least to Johnson.

“I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I was going through my head that I had better make it,” he said. “We do the two-minute drill every Thursday and it always comes down to a field goal. I was ready for it.”

Johnson’s kick capped off the most memorable performance of the season so far for head coach Rocky Hager’s bunch. The offense, led by sophomore quarterback John Sperrazza (17-for-32, 272 yards, one touchdown) and tailback Maurice Murray (24 carries, 130 yards, one touchdown), racked up 469 yards of total offense. The defense also proved its worth, forcing the Blue Hens to fumble the ball three times, two of them recovered by NU.

“Our kids really hung in there,” said Hager, who notched his 100th career victory as a college football coach. “They didn’t allow [the road games] to deter from our commitment to one another, their commitment to the offense, the defense and the special teams. We had some errors along the way and today we pulled more of it together than we had in the previous weeks. We’re growing as a football team and I’m proud of the way we played.”

Sperrazza slipped into the starting role despite still nursing an injured finger on his throwing hand. But with regular starter Anthony Orio feeling the effects of an injured ankle he suffered at Richmond, the six-foot-three, 240-pounder stepped up. He went five-for-six on the last drive, which included a 17-yard pass play to receiver Bill Monan and set up the game-winning field goal.

“I didn’t really go for stats; I wanted to win,” Sperrazza said. “We played Richmond last week and I tried to give it a go and I didn’t play that well. I was excited to play this week so I did everything I could and got some treatments three times a day to get my finger better so I could throw it better today. There were some throws I should’ve made, but you know, we got the victory and that’s all that matters.”

Junior tailback Murray bounced back from an injury of his own. After dealing with tendonitis in one of his knees for the past several games, Murray returned to his normal role as a focal point in the Huskies’ offensive attack. He set the tone for the day on Northeastern’s first play from scrimmage as he scampered around the right side, broke a tackle and zipped off for a 50-yard run to open the contest.

“It was something to boost up the team, get a good start, have everyone thinking positive right after that run and I think it started the game off real well for us,” he said. “I think [my knee] held up real well. I felt it a little here and there, but on the runs, I wasn’t really feeling it at all.”

Murray’s 50-yard run helped the Huskies drive down the field on the opening possession, a trip ending in a 20-yard field goal from Johnson to give the Huskies a 3-0 edge. Sperrazza threw a screen pass to Murray, who then took it 69 yards down to the Delaware two-yard line. On third and goal, sophomore tailback Alex Broomfield scored on a one-yard touchdown scamper to put Northeastern ahead 10-0.

Delaware answered with a touchdown from tailback Jared Bradley. The Blue Hens tied the game at 10-10 in the second quarter on a 34-yard field goal from Zach Hobby, then took a 17-10 lead at the 4:20 mark with another one-yard touchdown run from Bradley and the extra point.

The Huskies tied the game with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter when tight end Kendrick Ballantyne (four receptions, 53 yards) caught a Sperrazza pass thrown behind him with his left hand in the middle of the end zone. The extra point from Johnson tied the game at 17.

In the fourth quarter Northeastern took the lead on its longest drive of the game, a 12-play, 63-yard march that lasted over seven minutes. At the Delaware 36, Sperrazza found Ballantyne for a 23-yard strike and a fresh set of downs. Murray then carried the ball for five yards to the Delaware 10, and on second-and-five, he shot up the middle and into the end zone for a touchdown.

Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco tossed a nine-yard pass over the middle to a wide-open Ben Patrick in the end zone. With the extra point making it 24-24, the Huskies went to work on their final drive. The Huskies kept chipping away until Sperrazza’s connection with Monan with four seconds left to set up Johnson’s winning kick.

The Huskies now take a week off before preparing for their Homecoming game against the University of New Hampshire and their ace quarterback Ricky Santos.

“Watching last week’s film where Delaware and New Hampshire was playing (a 52-49 UNH win),” Hager said. “It’s like I’m not certain that the best college football player isn’t Ricky Santos, let alone the best I-AA player. We’ll have plenty of work to do, but I think the biggest thing is just to have health come back to our football team.”

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