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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Offense sputters as Huskies lose home opener

Nyla Owens
Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi (12) looks to pass to senior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz (8) on Saturday during the third quarter against Southern Illinois University on Saturday. The Huskies lost to Southern Illinois University 14-11. (Nyla Owens | Northern Star)

DeKALB – Points were a rarity as NIU football (1-1) dropped its home opener in a defensive slugfest to the Southern Illinois University Salukis (2-0) 14-11 Saturday. 

Despite out-gaining the Salukis by 141 yards, picking up six more first downs and holding Southern Illinois to 1-for-11 on third down, the Huskies were unable to get the win.

“Not great, (the Huskies’ offensive performance) but I’m very optimistic,” said redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi. “I think it was a good experience, and I’m happy that it happened now rather than later.”

Turnovers and missed opportunities proved to be the Huskies’ downfall in Saturday’s game. Lombardi threw three interceptions, and redshirt sophomore kicker Jake Seibert missed two of his three field goal attempts. 

“Offensively, we have to find a way to get better,” said NIU head football coach Thomas Hammock. “We have to be able to run the ball more effectively, and we can’t turn the ball over. And then special teams, you miss two field goals and lose by three points, that becomes critical in a game like this.”

The Huskies offense struggled to move the ball in the first half, getting shut out in the first 30 minutes. A rushing touchdown from SIU senior quarterback Nic Baker was all the Huskies’ defense surrendered in the first half to give the Salukis a 7-0 halftime lead. 

“As far as we’re  concerned, our defense played phenomenal today,” Hammock said. “They gave us a chance to win.”

After a 10-yard touchdown rush from senior running back Ro Elliott in the third quarter, the Huskies found themselves down 14-0, but responded with a field goal drive to cut the deficit to 14-3 entering the fourth quarter. 

Senior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz was a bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring offensive performance, catching six passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. Rutkiewicz’s biggest play of the day came in the fourth quarter when he and Lombardi connected for a 62-yard touchdown. 

“The middle of the field opened up for me,” Rutkiewicz said. “They tried to have a (line) backer cover me. Me and Rocky (Lombardi) work on that all the time – if I have a step on a guy let it loose – so he (Lombardi) let it loose, and I ran under it and made a big play.” 

Following Rutkiewicz’s touchdown, the Huskies scored on a successful two-point conversion. Redshirt junior wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph found Lombardi in the endzone to cut the Salukis’ lead to 14-11. 

The Huskies had an opportunity to tie or win the game, starting a drive on the Southern Illinois 37-yard line with just under three minutes to play. But with 33 seconds left, Lombardi was intercepted for the third time, sealing the victory for the Salukis. 

“We have to score points, points, points,” Hammock said. “Points are a premium.”

The Huskies’ next game will be against the University of Nebraska at 6 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Field in Lincoln, Nebraska. The game will be televised on FS1.

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