NIU football: Graham to take over at quarterback for injured Hare again

Published: Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 1:11 a.m. CDT  By JESSE SEVERSON-

TAMPA, Fla. – It is disheartening déjà vu for Ryan Graham.

 For the second consecutive season, Graham likely will take over for Drew Hare as the starting quarterback for Northern Illinois after Hare suffered another ankle injury during the Huskies’ lopsided 48-17 loss Saturday night at South Florida.

As a redshirt freshman last season, Graham was thrust into the spotlight after Hare suffered a season-ending Achilles injury Nov. 3.

Now the 6-foot-1, 210-pound quarterback from Wheaton likely takes over as the indefinite starter after Hare suffered what appeared to be a gruesome left ankle injury in the third quarter of the loss. While NIU coach Rod Carey said after the game that he hadn’t received an official diagnosis of the injury, Hare was carted off the field after being hurt and left the locker room in a wheelchair with a medical boot on his left foot, and a solemn expression on his face.

“It’s not anything new,” Graham said after the game about taking over for Hare. “I have a lot more confidence in myself [compared with last year]. I know that I have the ability, so it’s just go out there and do it. There’s no questioning being the first time, so as a backup you always have to be ready. It sucks to watch him go down, but I was ready.”

While the injury was difficult to watch, Graham was competent after Hare was injured last season.

He helped rally the Huskies for a 32-27 win in the Toledo game, in which Hare was injured, going 9 for 12 with 132 yards and a touchdown. He then led the Huskies to wins at Buffalo (15 for 24, 190 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and against Western Michigan (11 for 23 for 158 yards, two touchdowns and one interception).

He was 11 for 17 for 142 yards and a touchdown before getting injured in the loss to Ohio. Graham, who injured his knee, came back for the Poinsettia Bowl loss to Boise State and struggled, going 7 for 21 with 38 yards.

After taking over for Hare in the third quarter Saturday, with the Huskies already trailing, 34-7, he went 9 for 15 with 65 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Aregeros Turner – and also had five rushes for 21 yards.

However, he takes the reins of a Huskies team that has had a rough start to the season, to put it mildly.

They opened the season with a heartbreaking, triple-overtime 40-34 loss at Wyoming in a game that they were 7-point favorites and then were run off the field Saturday by the Bulls, who outgained NIU 658-318. In the first three quarters, the Huskies only got into South Florida (2-0) territory twice – one on a touchdown at the end of the half and the other when they reached the 47-yard line but had to punt.

“The sky’s not falling,” Graham said. “We still have everything in front of us. All of our goals are still out in front of us, so just go practice each day. … We’re all pretty [angry] and it’s good that we’re [angry], because if we didn’t care, it would be a problem.”

A series of unfortunate events led up to Hare’s injury with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.

First, South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers (21 for 33, 350 yards, four touchdowns) threw a 13-yard score to D’Erne Johnson to give the Bulls a 34-7 advantage. On the next kickoff, Turner dropped it with the ball going out of bounds on the NIU 3-yard line.

Hare was injured on the first play of the drive, keeping the ball on a run before being swallowed up by the South Florida defense – his left ankle bending violently as he went down and he instantly reached down to grab it.

“That was very tough to see,” said Huskies linebacker Bobby Jones, who had a team-high eight tackles. “I feel so bad for him, honestly. Just have to continue to pray for him and hope he bounces back.”

Graham and the Huskies will have their hands full when they host defending Mountain West Conference champions San Diego State in Saturday’s home opener. After allowing an average of 27.6 points per game in 2015, NIU has allowed 88 in its first two games of the year and the Aztecs (2-0) are coming off a 45-40 win over Cal.

“Obviously, we’re not used to losing so coming off an 0-2 start is definitely something different,” NIU linebacker Renard Cheren said. “I think we just need to come together and work on our flaws and what we’re doing wrong and just fix it. Period, because we don’t have any excuse after this.”  

Complete Daily Chronicle article here: