DEKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois University Huskies shut out Maine in the second half and allowed just 290 yards of total offense in the contest as they topped the Black Bears, 41-14, on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 25) at Huskie Stadium. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi (Clive, Iowa/Valley/Michigan State) ran for three touchdowns and threw for one more in the victory.
Lombardi was 17-of-24 passing for 282 yards and gained 119 yards on 10 carries. Harrison Waylee (Johnston, Iowa/Urbandale) added 130 rushing yards on 23 carries. Cole Tucker (DeKalb, Ill./DeKalb) had a game-high 114 receiving yards on four catches.
“We are excited about the win, but we have to get better,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. “We have to play cleaner, and I think our kids understand that. We have a good football team, we have played two undefeated teams (Michigan and Wyoming) and Georgia Tech, but for us to be the type of team we want to be, we have to continue to harp on the details and the discipline of our play and make sure our execution is at a high-level at all positions.”
NIU (2-2) led 21-14 at the half and John Richardson (Orland Park, Ill./Brother Rice) added a 27-yard field goal early in the third quarter to push the lead to 24-14. Tristen Tewes (Pleasant Plains, Ill./Pleasant Plains) made a spectacular one-handed catch for 21 yards on the drive to help set up the field goal.
Late in the third quarter, Maine (1-3) missed a 23-yard field goal attempt as the Huskie defense stepped up after the Black Bears recovered a fumble at the NIU 35 and returned it to the 15-yard line.
The Huskie offense responded with another field goal from Richardson, this time from 25 yards, as the Huskies led 27-14 early in the fourth quarter. Lombardi connected with Tucker for a 66-yard reception down the sidelines earlier in the drive to put the Huskies in the red zone.
On its next drive, NIU added to its lead with a 64-yard touchdown run by Lombardi, his second of the game. The Huskie quarterback kept the ball on a read option play around the left side and went untouched for the score, giving NIU a 34-14 lead with 9:34 to play in the contest.
The Huskies took over with a short field after a Maine fumble of a NIU punt and Lombardi scored his third rushing touchdown of the game with under six minutes to play. It was the second-straight touchdown for the NIU quarterback on a read option as he kept the ball and once again went untouched for the score, this time from 18 yards out on the first play of the drive, to give the Huskies a 41-14 lead.
NIU allowed just 110 yards of total offense to Maine in the second half.
“Defensively, we made some nice adjustments at halftime to some of the formations they gave us in the first half,” said Hammock. “They tried to get into bunch sets and get us extended on the edge and we made some adjustments to that. We were able to get them into some longer situations and on third down if we can get them in longer situations that is an advantage for the defense.”
Derek Robertson was 14-of-26 passing for the Black Bears for 165 yards, Freddie Brock ran for 85 yards on 18 carries for Maine.
NIU marched 77 yards on the opening drive of the contest, finished off by a seven-yard touchdown run from Waylee. The Huskies used nine plays on the drive, including a 19-yard run by Lombardi to give NIU first and 10 at the Maine 10.
After the two teams traded punts, Maine went 99 yards to tie the game with 3:24 left in the first quarter. Brock finished the drive with a 28-yard touchdown run to pull the Black Bears even, 7-7.
A 22-yard touchdown pass from Lombardi to Clint Ratkovich (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee/Western Illinois) put the Huskies back in front on the first play of the second quarter. The score capped an eight-play, 92-yard drive for the Huskies.
Maine answered right back as a four-yard touchdown run from Elijah Barnwell tied the game at 14 with 10:52 to play before halftime.
Lombardi scored for the first time in the contest when he went around the right side and found the end zone from seven yards out to put the Huskies back in front, 21-14, less than five minutes before halftime. The score from Lombardi finished an eight-play, 79-yard drive for the Huskies as he went 4-of-5 through the air on the drive, including connections of 13 and 18 yards to Tyrice Richie (Chicago, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor/Dodge City CC).
Richie finished with a game-high seven catches for 76 yards. Ratkovich had 79 all-purpose yards as he rushed for 38, had 25 receiving yards and 16 yards on kick returns. The Huskies host Eastern Michigan in the MAC opener next Saturday, Oct. 2, as NIU celebrates its 114th Homecoming in DeKalb. Kickoff against the Eagles is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.