DEKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois University Huskies erased a 26-point second half deficit but a Wyoming touchdown with less than two minutes left was enough to help the Cowboys escape with a 50-43 victory on Saturday afternoon (Sept. 11) at Huskie Stadium. Harrison Waylee (Johnston, Iowa/Urbandale) rushed for a game-high 179 yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.
“We have to play cleaner as a football team,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. “Players win games and coaches lose them. That loss is on me; we have to respond, we have to come back and we will. I love the resiliency of our guys, they competed for four quarters, they didn’t let the score affect them one way or the other, they just got ready for the next play.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them, their level of focus and discipline. We have a good football team; Wyoming is a good football team. Let’s not take anything away from them. Wyoming was a very, very tough football team. We pride ourselves on being tough, that was a good team, I have a lot of respect for Coach (Craig) Bohl and the program he runs.”
The Huskies fell to 1-1 on the season with the loss while Wyoming improved to 2-0.
An interception return for a touchdown by Wyoming’s Chad Muma gave the Cowboys a 42-16 lead with six minutes to play in the third quarter.
NIU answered immediately as the Huskies needed just four plays to go 70 yards, capped by a 40-yard touchdown pass from Rocky Lombardi (Clive, Iowa/Valley/Michigan State) to Trayvon Rudolph (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee), cutting the Wyoming lead to 42-22.
Lombardi finished the contest 19-of-36 through the air for 233 yards and a touchdown.
Early in the fourth quarter, Wyoming turned the ball over on downs and, four plays later, Waylee turned the corner on the left side and went 75 yards for a score as the Huskies trimmed the Cowboys advantage to two scores with 12:48 to play in the fourth quarter. It was the longest run from scrimmage by a Huskie since Anthony Maddie went for 75 yards versus Ball State in 2016.
Just 13 seconds later the Huskies were in the end zone again. Wyoming mishandled a pass behind the line of scrimmage on the first play of its drive and Ray Thomas (Racine, Wis./Washington Park) pounced on it to give NIU the ball on the Wyoming 14. Waylee found the end zone on the next play as the Huskies trimmed the Wyoming lead to 42-36.
The NIU defense forced a three-and-out, getting the ball back in good field position at the Wyoming 45. Five minutes and 10 plays later, Clint Ratkovich (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee/Western Illinois) reached over the goal line for his third score of the day and, following the point after from John Richardson (Orland Park, Ill./Brother Rice), the Huskies took their first lead of the game, 43-42, with 4:56 left.
Ratkovich rushed for 63 yards on six carries, much of it on a 52-yard run that set up NIU’s first score, to go along with his three touchdowns.
Wyoming went back in front on a 9-yard touchdown run by Sean Chambers with 1:35 to go. The key play of the Cowboys drive came on second-and-nine from the NIU 34 when Chambers connected with Isaiah Neyor for 30 yards. The play was initially ruled incomplete but, upon review, the Cowboy receiver was judged to gave gotten a foot down in bounds and retained possession, giving Wyoming first-and-goal at the NIU four. Three plays later, Chambers scored to help the Cowboys escape with the victory. Chambers went 13-of-23 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns, Xazavian Valladay ran for a team-high 101 yards on 21 carries.