Last second field goal lifts NIU Huskies to win over Ball State

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DEKALB, Ill. (WTVO/WQRF) [NIU news release)– The Northern Illinois University football team rallied from a 26-20 fourth-quarter deficit and returned the Bronze Stalk to DeKalb after defeating Ball State, 30-29, at Huskie Stadium Wednesday night.  
 
“This was Just a heck of a team win,” NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said. “The guys were resilient, they played hard. They stuck to it, there was no flinch. They kept battling to the end. We found a way to score one more point than them. To be minus-two in the turnover battle, and find a way to win, I just love what our kids are doing.” 
 
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi led NIU (7-3, 5-1 MAC) to back-to-back scoring drives in the fourth quarter and John Richardson nailed a 32-yard field goal as time expired to secure the victory. Fullback Clint Ratkovich made key plays for the Huskies on both fourth-quarter scoring drives. 
 
Trailing 26-20 with 10:04 left in the game, Lombardi led NIU on a 14-play 69-yard drive that chewed up 7:22 on the clock and ended with a 10-yard touchdown run by Jay Ducker, putting the Huskies up 27-26 with 2:42 left in the game.  
 
The biggest play of the drive came on fourth and two. With Lombardi eluding pressure, and falling down, he flicked the ball to Ratkovich on a shovel pass to convert and keep the drive alive. 
 
“The fourth-down play to Clint, my goodness,” Hammock said. “When Rocky made that play, I said that’s a championship moment. I’m glad we were able to finish the deal.” 
 
Ball State (5-5, 3-3) responded, driving down to the NIU 31 yard-line with 1:42 left in the contest.  
 
After the kickoff went out of bounds, Ball State advanced to the NIU 31 in two plays but could advance no further as, after an incompletion, Demond Taylor tackled Cannon Steele for no gain and Ray Thomas knocked down a Plitt pass attempt. Jacob Lewis hit a 48-yard field goal to put BSU up 29-27. 
 
With 1:42 left on the clock, NIU began its final drive on its own 25 yard-line. Lombardi led the Huskie comeback with his arm and his legs. He rushed for 22 yards in that final drive and went 4-for-5 for 28 yards passing. 
 
After breaking the pocket and gaining eight yards on first down, Lombardi hit Cole Tucker for seven. Following an offsides penalty on Ball State, Lombardi crossed midfield and ran for 12 yards to pick up another Huskie first down. A six-yard completion to Ratkovich and another six-yard pass to Miles Joiner on third and four kept the drive going. 
 
Ratkovich moved the Huskies closer for a Richardson field goal attempt when he and Lombardi hooked up for a seven-yard completion and Ratkovich rushed for another yard on a direct snap to put the ball on the Ball State 24.  
 
The Cardinals’ Brandon Martin was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as he threw Ratkovich to the ground after the whistle had blown when Ball State called timeout, moving the Huskies to the Ball State 11.  
 
A two-yard run by Lombardi centered the ball for Richardson, who following Ball State’s final timeout, drilled the game winner. The field goal was Richardson’s second game-winner of the season and fourth of his career. 
 
Lombardi finished the day with 264 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-38 passing and ran for 30 yards on five carries. The Huskie QB also booted a pair of punts, averaging 43 yards a punt, in the game, one that landed on the Ball State two-yard line and the other on the six. 
 
“I just want to mention, that I think got overlooked, that’s part of the game. He kicked two punts today that really changed the game” he said of Lombardi’s punting. “He had a lot on his plate this week and Rocky maximized every opportunity out there.” 
 
He had a pair of 100-yard receivers as Trayvon Rudolph and Tucker finished with 108 and 103 yards, respectively. Lombardi and Tucker connected on a 58-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left in the first half to tie the game at 17-17. Rudolph had a game-high eight receptions, while Tucker followed with five. 
 
Ducker turned in his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing performance, amassing 155 yards on 24 carries and rushing for a score. Ratkovich tallied 12 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown and added 29 yards on five receptions. 
 
NIU overcame a few early miscues, including a pair of first quarter turnovers that resulted in 10 Cardinal points, and had a punt blocked for a safety early in the third quarter. 
 
Lombardi’s first quarter interception resulted in a 43-yard field goal by Lewis with 5:42 left in the first and Rudolph, who was stripped after an 11-yard gain, gave Ball State the ball on NIU’s 42, that BSU converted into a seven points on a 15-yard touchdown completion. 
 
Ratkovich cut the deficit to three with a two-yard touchdown run and Richardson pulled the Huskies to within a touchdown with a 38-yard field goal late in the second quarter. 
 
Jake Chanove had a chance to give Ball State a three-point halftime lead, however, his field goal attempt from 24 yards out was wide left. 

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