Despite record-setting night, NIU’s 5-game win streak snapped at Kent State

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KENT, Ohio (WTVO/WQRF) [NIU News Release]– A record-setting night by a pair of Huskies was not enough as the Northern Illinois University football team suffered a 52-47 setback at Kent State at Dix Stadium Wednesday night.  
 
“Hats off to Kent State, I thought the executed at a high level,” NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said. “Their quarterback really played well, but I liked the fight of our guys. The first quarter, we had some stops defensively. We needed to take better advantage offensively and score points.  
 
“We knew it was going to be this type of game. Obviously, we need to look at the tape and do some things a little better to minimize some of the damage. We’ll learn from it and grow from it.” 
 
NIU quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw for a school-record 532 yards on 33-of-57 passing, including three touchdowns. Lombardi’s total broke the record previously held by Phil Horvath, who threw for 486 yards against Akron on Sept. 24, 2005. Lombardi completed passes to nine different receivers, but his primary target, Trayvon Rudolph, turned in a career night.  
 
“You figure if you throw for 800 yards in two weeks, you’re doing something right,” he said. “Rocky played phenomenal, he gave us a chance. We were down 18 and came fighting back like we’ve done every other game and we can build off that.” 
 
The Huskie wide out amassed 309 yards receiving, a school and Mid-American Conference record, on a career-high 14 receptions, surpassing Sam Hurd’s total of 266 yards set against Central Michigan on Nov. 5, 2005. They are also the most yards receiving by an FBS player this season. Rudolph’s 14 receptions on the night are a career-best, are tied for second most by a Huskie in game and equal his total from all of 2020. They are the most receptions by an NIU receiver since Kenny Golladay tallied 14 against Toledo on Nov. 9, 2016.  
 
“For him to play the way he played, with the adversity we were faced with, with [Tyrice] Richie going down, he stepped up big time and we’re going to need him to step up the rest of the way,” Hammock said of Rudolph.  
 
The loss was the first for NIU in conference play, which falls to 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the MAC West, while the Golden Flashes improve to 5-4 on the year and 4-1 in the MAC East.  
 
Kent State used a balanced attack, amassing 682 yards of total offense, rushing for 360 and passing for 322, while holding the Huskie offense, which was averaging 232.6 yards rushing a game, to 131 yards on the ground. Tailback Jay Ducker recorded his third consecutive 100-yard game, and third of the season, finishing with 101 yards on 19 carries and scoring two touchdowns, the first of his collegiate career.  
  
NIU opened up a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter when Lombardi connected with Rudolph on a 36-yard touchdown strike for the game’s first touchdown. Kent State responded with a 39-yard field goal by Andrew Glass. Rudolph and Lombardi hooked up again in the second quarter on a 75-yard touchdown strike to put NIU up 14-3 with 9:49 left in the first half as Rudolph scored on a 75-yard play for the second consecutive game. 
  
The Golden Flashes responded with 31 second quarter points to take control of the game.  
  
Kent State took a 17-14 lead with 7:03 left in the second quarter with back-to-back touchdown runs by quarterback Dustin Crum, and tailback Marquez Cooper. NIU came back with an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped off by Ducker’s five-yard touchdown to pull back ahead, 21-17. It would be NIU’s last lead of the night.  
  
A 39-yard touchdown run by Crum put Kent State up 24-21 with 2:21 left in the half and a four-yard touchdown pass from Crum to Kris Leach extended Kent State’s advantage to 31-21 with 38 seconds left in the first half.  
  
The Golden Flashes asserted themselves at the start of the third quarter, taking the opening possession 69 yards on eight plays to go up 38-21.   
  
However, NIU kept battling back as, once again, Lombardi found Rudolph for a 34-yard touchdown pass, pulling NIU to within 11, 38-27, with 8:32 left in the third. After Kent State came back with a six-play, 65-yard scoring drive to go up, 45-27, the Huskies tried to mount a comeback.  
  
Ducker scored his second touchdown of the night on a 30-yard run to cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive to cut the deficit to 12 with 14:19 left in the game. Following a stop on defense by the Huskies, NIU mounted a 10-play, 74-yard scoring drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown run by Clint Ratkovich to pull NIU within five, 45-40 with eight minutes left in the contest. Unfortunately, that was as close as the Huskies would get.  
 
“We didn’t score enough this game, but I love the resiliency of our football team,” Hammock said. “We will continue to get better, I believe that.” 
 
The two teams traded touchdowns in the next three minutes, and Kent State was able to run out the clock on its final drive to take the game.  
  
Cooper finished the game with 173 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns, and Xavier Williams added 103 yards on 15 attempts. Crum, who rushed for 72 yards and two scores, threw for 322 yards and two touchdowns on 20-of-30 attempts.  

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