NIU Falls to No. 20 Auburn, 31-14

Updated 9/23/2000
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) (Sept. 23, 2000) -- Justin McCareins caught 11 passes for 189 yards for Northern Illinois but it wasn't enough to force the upset as Auburn won 31-14.

Ben Leard threw two touchdown passes and Rudi Johnson added a 56-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter to lift No. 20 Auburn to a 31-14 victory over Northern Illinois on Saturday.

The Tigers (4-0) surged to a 24-0 halftime lead, but the Huskies (1-2) got back into it with a pair of TDs in a two-minute span of the fourth quarter.

Then Johnson, held in check for 57 minutes, shook off a tackle behind the line and broke down the right sideline with 2:47 left. The 56-yarder, on third-and-2, gave him 110 yards on 23 carries, his fourth straight 100-yard effort.

It also helped Auburn secure its first 4-0 start since 1997.

Leard was 15-of-19 for 174 yards, including TD passes to Reggie Worthy and Ronney Daniels in the first half. He also threw his first interception of the season.

His backup, Jeff Klein, threw a 7-yard TD pass to tight end Robert Johnson in the first half. Damon Duval added a 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half.

It would be the last damage Auburn's offense would do until Rudi Johnson's run. Leard played only the first and last series of the second half as coach Tommy Tuberville gave Klein and No. 3 quarterback Daniel Cobb action.

Rudi Johnson managed only 32 yards on 17 carries through three quarters. He has fourth-quarter TDs in each of Auburn's games.

The passing connection of Chris Finlen and Justin McCareins brought Northern Illinois back.

Finlen finished 15-of-29 for 218 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Justin McCareins caught 11 passes for 189 yards.

McCareins had six catches for 133 yards in the fourth, and caught a 30-yarder to set up Thomas Hammock's 2-yard run with 12:09 left.

The ensuing onside kick try didn't go the required 10 yards, but Auburn's Dontarrious Thomas scooped it up and lost control of the ball. Vincent Reynolds recovered for Northern Illinois, which cashed in with Finlen's 9-yard TD pass to McCareins.

McCareins had a 40-yard catch and 7-yard run on the drive.

The Huskies threatened yet again on their next possession, driving to Auburn's 24 before getting stymied by a holding penalty and three straight incompletions.

Auburn answered with three straight carries by Johnson, including the 56-yarder.

Leard was 14-of-16 for 164 yards in the first half, with an interception in the end zone on his final attempt. Klein finished 5-of-8 for 38 yards. Cobb came in on one series in the fourth while Leard was in the locker room with stomach problems.

The Tigers gained 289 first-half yards, even though Johnson managed just 19 yards on 11 carries.

They actually lost yardage on five of their first 10 plays, but still scored TDs on their first three drives. They opened the game with Ronney Daniels' 58-yard flanker reverse and scored four plays later on Leard's 7-yarder to Worthy.

Northern Illinois, meanwhile, had its 13-play opening drive end in a fumble when Finlen couldn't handle a high snap. DeMarco McNeil recovered for Auburn.

Leard capped a 7-for-7 showing on the second drive with a 14-yarder to Daniels, making it 14-0 one play into the second quarter.

Klein got into the act on the next drive, hitting tight end Robert Johnson for a 7-yard TD. It was Klein's first action of the season.