Commodores pick up first win against Northern Illinois 24-18

It took four games, but the Commodores have finally added to their win column.

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Commodores pick up first win against Northern Illinois 24-18

Justin Hershey

On a steamy Saturday in Nashville, the Vanderbilt Commodores (1-3) were able to handle the Northern Illinois Huskies (1-3) 24-18 to secure their first win of the season.

The Commodore offense got off to a fantastic start, as quarterback Riley Neal looked very comfortable early.  After electing to receive the opening kickoff, Vanderbilt went on a four play, 81-yard scoring drive in just over a minute and a half.  The drive was capped off by a 61-yard touchdown run by true freshman running back Keyon Brooks, the first of his young career.

After quickly forcing a Northern Illinois punt, Vanderbilt kept their foot on the gas. Wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley set up the Commodores deep in Husky territory with his best punt return of the year and shortly thereafter, Ke’Shawn Vaughn punched it in from one yard out, his fourth touchdown of the season.

While the offense slowed down in the second quarter, the defense remained steady.  The teams traded punts throughout a rather uneventful quarter, during which cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams suffered a leg injury that ended his day — an unfortunate blow to an already thin Vanderbilt secondary.

The Commodores went to the locker room at halftime with a 14-0 lead, but the Huskies struck first in the third quarter.  After a 44-yard completion from quarterback Ross Bowers to wide receiver Spencer Tears, Northern Illinois converted on a 39-yard field goal to open the second half scoring.

Northern Illinois continued to capitalize on Vanderbilt’s sluggish second half start.  Following a defensive stop, Bowers found tight end Mitchell Brinkman for a 38 yard score, cutting the Vanderbilt lead to just four.

Finally, following five straight punts, the Commodore offense turned to some trickery to get back on track.  After multiple long runs from Vaughn, Neal connected with Kalija Lipscomb on a flea flicker for a 38 yard touchdown to make the score 21-10.

The Commodores extended their lead early in the fourth quarter after a short possession for the Husky offense. Their long drive stalled deep in Husky territory, until kicker Javan Rice converted on the first field goal of his career from 28 yards to put the Commodores up 24-10.

But the Huskies refused go down without a fight.  Bowers set up a one yard Marcus Jones touchdown run after connecting with receiver Spencer Tears for a 33-yard gain.  Following an easily successful 2-point conversion, the Commodores found their lead cut to 24-18.

Northern Illinois proceeded to force a Commodore punt and began putting together another drive. After a fumbled snap from Bowers, Vanderbilt was able to stop the Huskies and take control of the game.  After Vaughn was able to convert a few key first downs, the Commodores wrapped up their first win of the year.

The Commodore defense showed signs of improvement this week, but much will have to be tightened up as SEC play resumes next week.  They forced six straight Northern Illinois punts to open the game, but steadily faded throughout the afternoon. The Huskies totaled six runs of over 10 yards and torched the Commodore defense with three long passes for over 30 yards. 

However, there were several impressive individual defensive performances for Vanderbilt.  Redshirt freshman linebacker, Elijah McAllister recorded 2 sacks while safety Brendon Harris filled in nicely for an injured Tae Daley with 7 tackles.  Dimitri Moore was solid once again, tallying 7 tackles including 2 for a loss.

Offensively, Ke’Shawn Vaughn was sharp this week, totaling 146 total yards on 20 touches.  To make his performance even more impressive, following the game, Coach Derek Mason revealed to the media that Vaughn became a father last night.

“Last night his son, Kelan, was born at around 7.  So that young man stayed at the hospital last night with his newborn son…I appreciate him for the warrior that he is”

Riley Neal had an efficient game as well, completing 21 of 28 passing attempts for 189 yards and one touchdown.  Although the offense once again lacked a downfield passing attack, Mason attributes that simply to the flow of the game.

“We were going to take some shots, but it got a little loose sometimes on some key down and distance situations…so we decided to go back to the idea of splitting it out.”

In addition, Neal was frequently looking in the direction of redshirt freshman receiver, Cam Johnson, who continues to become a more intricate part of the Commodore passing attack. 

One area Vanderbilt continues to struggle in is penalties.  In total, the Commodores were guilty of 9 penalties for nearly 100 yards.  This will surely be a focus point this week at practice.

Overall, Coach Mason was pleased by the performance and is excited that the team can move forward with a win on their resume.

“The first win is the toughest win to get…It looked like it was running away from you and you had to make a stand.  Let’s call it what it is, it’s a victory for the Commodores.”

Following the 1-1 homestand, Vanderbilt will hit the road to battle Ole Miss next Saturday in Oxford at 6:30 pm.

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