Jaelon Darden fell backward as he backpedaled and adjusted to a ball thrown over his left shoulder with less than 10-seconds left. Mason Fine had rolled to his left three steps, and floated a ball to the hash, in the only spot that Darden could get to but away from the defender. Darden made the grab, and NT was set up for a nice chip shot field goal. NT wins, 33-30.
The win stopped something like a skid. There were 16,094 announced for this one, but even if there were that many scanned into the stadium, they were not around by the time NT was kicking the game-winner. That is life in CUSA and in a disappointing season like this one. Yes, it does say something that NT is just 3-4 on the season and just four seasons removed from barely squeaking out one or two wins in a lucky year.
This is how it all works, so we can save the reflections for later. Right now NT is still in the fight for a bowl appearance, which is necessary if Seth Littrell is ever going to get a chance at a bowl win with Mason Fine at the helm.
The conference chances improved after the day’s results as well. Southern Miss fell apart late against La Tech in Ruston, with Jack Abraham throwing four interceptions. Tech is on the NT schedule, and on UAB’s too. That means everyone has a chance if they get a little luck. NT needed a dash of luck and execution in this one. There were many self-inflicted wounds in this one: NT dropped something like two clear interceptions offered by MTSU QBs. They finally grabbed one in what seemed to be a the final defensive stance before Loren Easly fumbled it away soon after.
The poor snaps were ever-looming over the offense, and many a FG was attempted. In the end, Mason Fine threw some strikes, playing just a week after he was knocked out of the USM game and playing through more pain sustained in this one. He was hit often — as he always is — but found Darden 13 times on 14 targets, for 125 and a TD.
The new, young WRs stepped up in this one — Shorter, Ogunmakin, White, and Simpson all grabbed two or three or more.
NT looked a little more crisp in the face of some injuries. Tre Siggers dressed but did not play. His backup DeAndre Torrey played but did not impress. Loren Easly fumbled, but he did rack up 99 on the ground. Nic Smith played in spot duty but grabbed a huge screen pass late.
In shades of the UAB win two seasons ago, NT blew a lead, allowed a game-tying TD with under 40s left. Deion Hair-Griffin, demoted from WR duties, returned a big one — 50 yards — to set up the drive. Nic Smith got a screen pass for 11 yards. Then Mason Fine found Darden down to the 7-yard line.
It was not pretty but it did not have to be. This league is still winnable and we all would much rather be complaining about the ugly in a win than the pretty in a loss.