Huskies find their groove in conference win

By Mike Knapp

DeKALB — All season long, the Huskies have been looking for more consistency on offense.

It finally showed up in the second half against Ohio University, as the Huskies hung 29 points on the scoreboard in the final two quarters.

The final three were the most important, as a field goal 37-yards out by John Richardson, redshirt first-year kicker, gave the Huskies a huge 39-36 road win as time expired.

The win snapped a four-game Huskie losing streak dating back to the season opener against Illinois State University, and evened their Mid-American Conference record at 1-1. The Huskies are now 2-4 overall.

“I’m proud of our kids, I’m proud of our coaches,” NIU Head Coach Thomas Hammock said in an athletic department press release. “We were resilient. It was a team effort; I liked the fight of our team. We wanted to play four quarters of Huskie football, not getting too high or too low, just play the next play. The difference today was guys making plays. We talked to our guys at halftime about making plays.”

The win came after a first half that was dominated by the Bobcats. Ohio had 222 yards of offense to the Huskies’ 138, and the Bobcats held the ball for close to 20 minutes. All the offense could manage was a career-long 51-yard field goal from Richardson, and trailed 21-10.

The offense went from zero-to-prolific from the jump to start the second half, and the Huskies scored five of the six times they touched the ball in the final two quarters.

After the two teams traded punts to start the half, backup quarterback Marcus Childers gave the Huskie offense a shot of adrenaline when he took a keeper 70 yards to the Ohio 7-yard line.

Childers, who had seen little playing time up to this point in the season, added a little wrinkle to the Huskies’ attack, rushing for 80 yards on two carries and completing his only pass for three yards.

Childers wasn’t the only person doing damage in the second half. Running back Tre Harbison, who was held to just five net yards rushing in the first half, ran for 108 yards and three touchdowns, and came up huge on the Huskies final drive of the game.

With the Huskies taking over at their own 25 with 3:38 to go and the score tied at 36-all, Harbison carried the ball six times for 42 yards to move NIU to the Ohio 18-yard line with 35 seconds to go to set Richardson up for his game-winning kick.

“I knew that the snap and hold were going to be great, I knew the line was going to block just like they had all year,” Richardson said. “I just had to be confident in myself because my team had confidence in me. It was tough missing earlier. I knew I had to deliver for my team.”

Harbison and Richardson weren’t the only heroes of the day. Quarterback Ross Bowers threw for more than 300 yards for the first time as a Huskie, completing 23 of his 39 passes for 338 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Bowers completed passes to seven different receivers, but Cole Tucker, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, led the receiving corps with eight catches for a career-high 118 yards. Also hitting the 100-yard mark was tight end Mitchell Brinkman, who caught five balls for 100 yards, including a 48-yard catch and run that set up the Huskies’ final touchdown.

“Coming off of four-straight losses, we needed this one to get back,” Tucker said in a video posted from the NIU Huskie Athletics Twitter account. “Brinkman played great, Bowers was throwing it wherever he wanted and Harbison was running it. It was just a great team victory.”

All of that was needed to offset Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke, who was brilliant in the loss. The senior, arguably the best quarterback in the MAC, threw for 258 yards and a score, rushed for 80 yards and another score and also caught a pass for a touchdown.

The Huskies came into the weekend in a must-win situation, and they responded.This will have to be the kick start the Huskies need for the rest of the season, as the schedule doesn’t let up from here.

Next weekend, the Huskies travel back to Ohio, this time to take on Miami University. After a homecoming game with Akron, they go back on the road for MAC West tests against Central Michigan and Toledo.

It’s certainly a gauntlet, but if the team that showed up in the second half makes it off the bus every game for the rest of the season, they will be able to play with anybody.