Ground Game Keys Victory Over Bowling Green

Local Sports

DEKALB, Ill. – The Northern Illinois University football team won its fourth straight game with a 34-26 victory over Mid-American Conference East Division foe Bowling Green on the strength of a 200-yard rushing performance by tailback Jay Ducker at Huskie Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The Huskie freshman rushed for 210 yards on 33 carries after stepping in for Antario Brown, who left the game in the first quarter. Ducker’s career-high total was part of a 319-yard rushing performance by the NIU offense on 59 attempts.

“Jay is a guy that’s a talented young man,” NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said.  “When his number was called, he was ready. There is never a question about his talent. His talent is unquestioned. His vision is unquestioned.  His ability to run the football is unquestioned. His mentality of how he attacked and approached the last few weeks showed up today. 

“We have a tremendous backfield and the way those guys practice gives them an opportunity to play the way they play in games.”

NIU improved to 5-2 on the season and 3-0 in MAC play, while Bowling Green fell to 2-5, 0-3.

“It was a tremendous team win, I thought we played well in all three phases,” Hammock said. “We’re still a young football team, learning and growing. When we find ourselves in these types of games, there’s no panic, there’s no stress, there’s no flinch. We have confidence we’re going to make plays. That’s what we did today.”

Bowling Green struck first after capitalizing on a Huskie turnover in the first quarter. The Falcons began their second drive of the game on the NIU 36 and scored six plays later to take a 7-0 lead with 4:59 left in the first.

NIU responded with a 13-play, 63-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7 with 13:13 left in the second quarter. Ducker carried the ball seven times for 37 yards on the drive, which culminated in a three-yard touchdown run by quarterback Rocky Lombardi.

The Huskies took the lead midway through the second quarter on a six-play 73-yard drive. Ducker rushed four times for 45 yards, including a 28-yard burst, to set up freshman Mason Blakemore for his first career touchdown. Following a six-yard run on his first carry of the game, Blakemore punched it into the end zone on an impressive 17-yard run. All six plays on NIU’s drive were rushing plays.

“It was a tremendous effort by our team,” Hammock said. “We knew the weather would be a factor in the passing game. We went into the game with the plan to run the ball.”

Blakemore finished the contest with 44 yards on four carries and a touchdown.

After a 23-yard field goal by Bowling Green’s Nate Needham cut the NIU lead to 14-10, Trayvon Rudolph took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the Huskies’ third touchdown of the quarter and gave NIU a 21-10 lead with 1:37 left in the half. Rudolph’s kickoff return touchdown was NIU’s first since 2016 and is just the third 100-yard scoring play in school history.

The NIU defense held the Falcons to a 49-yard field goal by Needham with seven seconds left in the half and took a 21-13 advantage into halftime.

The Falcons and Huskies traded field goals on their first two possessions of the third quarter. Lombardi, who threw for 58 yards on 4-of-8 passing, tallied 20 on one play when he connected with Rudolph on a touchdown pass to put the Huskies up by 15, 31-16, with 3:16 left in the third.

Richardson extended the Huskie lead to 18 on a 29-yard field goal early the fourth quarter.

The Falcons closed to within eight after a 42-yard field goal by Needham, his fourth on the game, and a 36-yard touchdown pass to Austin Osborne, who made a great catch on a tipped pass.

Dillon Thomas and C.J. Brown led the way for the Huskie defense. Thomas recorded a team-high 10 tackles, including a half tackle for loss, while C.J. Brown followed with seven stops. Defensive tackle James Ester, finished with a tackle, recording the game’s lone sack. The Huskies return to action Saturday, Oct. 23 when the Huskies travel to Mt. Pleasant, Mich. for a MAC West showdown with Central Michigan. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. CT on ESPNU.

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