CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (WTVO/WQRF) [NIU news release] – Rocky Lombardi crossed the goal line from one-yard out on a quarterback sneak in overtime to give the Northern Illinois University Huskies a 27-24 “Boneyard” win over Boston College Saturday in the 2023 season opener for both teams.
Lombardi’s sneak gave NIU its second consecutive win over an Atlantic Coast Conference team as the Huskies defeated Georgia Tech, 22-21, in its 2021 season opener. Boneyard Wins are awarded every time NIU defeats a team from a larger conference; the tradition dates back to 1983. Saturday’s win is the 18th Boneyard Win and just the second to come in overtime.
After the NIU defense held Boston College to a 39-yard field goal in its overtime session as the Eagles were unable to gain a first down, Lombardi connected with fullback Brock Lampe, who made a one-handed grab for a 16-yard pickup to the nine-yard line. A Gavin Williams rush gained eight yards to the one, setting up Lombardi’s quick snap sneak.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, I couldn’t be more proud of our coaches,” said NIU head coach Thomas Hammock. “I knew we had a good team. It was good to see those guys go out and do it. All the way up to the game, those guys had a focus, a maturity that you see from a veteran team. We didn’t play clean, we didn’t play perfect, but we played together.”
Boston College tied the game with a pair of touchdowns in the last six minutes of the game to send the game into overtime. Trailing NIU 21-7, BC quarterback Thomas Castellanos led the Eagles on a 10-play, 59-yard drive to close the gap to 21-14. The key play on the drive was a fourth-and-five conversion from the BC 46-yard line that saw Castellanos chased all the way back to the 15-yard line before he escaped and found Lewis Bond for a conversion. Castellanos completed the drive, scoring on a two-yard run with 5:59 to play.
NIU drove from its 25 to the BC 48 on its next possession before the drive stalled. Boston College started from its 17-yard line with 3:23 remaining after the Huskie punt and drove 83 yards in just six plays to tie the game. After an apparent interception by Nate Valcarcel was overturned, Castellanos hit Patrick Garwo and Ryan O’Keefe for seven and 22 yards, respectively, and ran for 10 yards in between those completions. He then connected with Jaden Williams on a 30-yard touchdown pass for the tying touchdown.
Castellanos finished the game 13-of-28 passing for 138 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 67 yards on nine carries with a score despite not starting the game.
Leading 7-0 at halftime, NIU doubled its lead on the opening drive of the second half. The Huskies went 75 yards in nine plays, with running back Antario Brown scoring his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard rush. The score was set up by runs of 21 and 13 yards by Gavin Williams and Justin Lynch, respectively.
Boston College got on the board by recovering a Huskie fumble at its own 25-yard line. The Eagles took five plays to score on an 11-yard pass from Castellanos to Bond with 4:58 to play in the third quarter and halving NIU’s lead, 14-7.
NIU went back up by 14 early in the fourth quarter with a 12-play, 55-yard drive that consumed 7:04 on the clock. Lampe rushes converted a pair of third downs on the drive and scored on a one-yard rush to put the Huskies ahead 21-7 with 9:23 to play. The junior fullback finished with three carries for 14 yards and two catches for 28 yards in the game.
The NIU defense put together a solid performance, holding Boston College to just 146 net rushing yards and a 5-of-16 mark on third down conversions. The Huskie offense was 10-of-18 on third downs and totaled 338 yards while holding the ball for 36:53 to Boston College’s 20:47.
The teams played a scoreless first quarter as both teams looked for their rhythm on offense. NIU managed three first downs in the quarter while Boston College collected four.
The punting/field position contest continued into the second quarter. The Eagles’ punt forced the Huskies to start at its five-yard line on their first drive of the quarter. After advancing to their 47, the NIU drive stalled and Foley’s punt was downed at the Boston College 15. The Huskie defense forced a three and out and NIU began its second drive of the quarter at its 40-yard line.
NIU broke the scoring drought with a 60-yard drive beginning at 7:58 of the second period. From its 40-yard line, a pair of Brown runs netted six yards before Lombardi dropped a 32-yard pass into the arms of tight end Chris Carter to the Boston College 20-yard line. Two plays later, a Lombardi to Rutkiewicz hook-up resulted in a conversion on third and five to the Boston College six. Lombardi rushed for four, but a false start penalty sent NIU back to the seven-yard line. From there, Justin Lynch took the shotgun snap and hit Brown in the right flat, where the junior went in for the first Huskie touchdown of the season.
NIU plays its 2023 home opener next Saturday, September 9 versus in-state foe Southern Illinois. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. at Huskie Stadium.