NIU Huskies claim MAC West championship with win at Buffalo

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BUFFALO, NY (WTVO/WQRF) [NIU news release] – The Northern Illinois University football team claimed its eighth Mid-American Conference West Division title in the last 12 years, and first since 2018, in dramatic fashion with a 33-27 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bulls at UB Stadium Wednesday night.  
 
“It’s obviously a great win,” NIU head coach Thomas Hammock said. “Our kids battled for four quarters and in overtime, but we expected to win. They went out there and got it done. I couldn’t be prouder of them. I couldn’t be prouder of our coaching staff for staying committed to the process of building this thing back the right way.” 
 
After NIU (8-3, 6-1 MAC) recovered a Buffalo (4-7, 2-5 MAC) fumble at the goal line on the Bulls’ opening possession in overtime, running back Clint Ratkovich, burst through the line on the Huskies’ first play on offense and took it 25 yards to the endzone to seal the game and division for NIU. 
 
Ratkovich finished the game with a season-high 75 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 11 carries. His overtime touchdown gave NIU its ninth contest decided by eight points of less on the season and capped a crazy series of events. 
 
With the game tied 27-27 following a 55-yard field by Buffalo’s Alex McNulty 1:10 left to play in the game, the Huskies looked for a repeat of a week ago and attempted to drive the field for a game-winning score. 
 
The Huskies drove all the way down to the Buffalo 20-yard line and John Richardson attempted a 38-yard field goal attempt into a strong wind that both teams had to contend with all night. However, Richardson’s kick was blown left as time expired forcing overtime. 
 
NIU won the toss and elected to play on defense. Buffalo drove down to the NIU two-yard line in seven plays. The Bulls then called a timeout before their third and goal play. Buffalo quarterback Matt Myers, who was line up in shotgun formation, mishandled the snap, and defensive tackle Demond Taylor fell on the ball to stop the Bulls’ scoring threat and turn it over to the Huskie offense. It was Buffalo’s only turnover of the game and one of two lost fumbles on the night. 
 
“It seemed like the ball was on the ground for 25 seconds,” Hammock said. “We were very fortunate to get on top of it. Obviously, on third down if they would’ve fallen on it, it would’ve been a touchdown. How about our defensive linemen being alert?” 
 
While there were only two, turnovers played a big role in Wednesday’s outcome. 
After Ratkovich gave NIU a 24-10 lead with 7:37 left in the period, the Huskie defense forced a Bulls punt on Buffalo ensuing drive and gave NIU the ball at its own 35-yard line. Buffalo cashed in a Huskie turnover on NIU’s fourth possession in the third quarter. 
 
After a run for no gain and an in complete pass, Buffalo defensive end Eric Black forced a fumble by Rocky Lombardi on sack of the Huskie QB. Black recovered the ball on the NIU 28-yard line. Tailback Ron Cook took the ball in two plays later from 22 yards to cut the Huskie lead in half, 24-17 with 3:06 left in the third. 
 
Cook tied the game, 24-24, when he scored on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Myers with 12:22 left in regulation. 
 
NIU responded with a 14-play, 66-yard drive that chewed up 7:24 off the clock and ended with a 27-yard field goal by Richardson to give the Huskies a 27-24 advantage with 4:58 left in the fourth. 
 
Buffalo opened up a 10-3 lead following a 32-yard field goal by McNulty and a one-yard touchdown run by McDuffie. Sandwiched in between the Buffalo scores was a 30-yard field goal by Richardson. 
 
NIU responded quickly, tying the game at 10 on a 75-yard end around run by wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph. Rudolph led the Huskies in rushing with 94 yards on three carries. 
 
The Huskies took the lead on their second possession of the third quarter, on another explosive play as tailback Antario Brown took his first carry of the night 47 yards to the endzone giving NIU a 17-10 lead. Brown finished his night with 71 yards on three rushes.  
 
NIU amassed 505 yards of total offense, rushing for 308 yards and four touchdowns on 47 attempts. Lombardi threw for 197 yards on 17-of-27 passing. 
 
The Huskie defense held Buffalo 384 yards of total offense and racked up seven tackles for loss. Perhaps the biggest TFL came from linebacker Lance Deveaux, Jr. who dropped McDuffie for a one-yard loss on third and nine forcing the 55-yard field goal attempt. 
 

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