Second-half comeback attempt falls just short in loss to Vanderbilt

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Senior quarterback Ross Bowers makes a throw while being rushed by Vanderbilt defender at Vanderbilt Stadium.

James Krause

DeKALB — A second-half resurgence on offense wasn’t enough for the football team to upset the Vanderbilt University Commodores on the road, with the Huskies losing 24-18 Saturday in Nashville, Tennessee.

After giving up 14 points early in the first quarter, NIU closed the gap with points on its first two possessions of the second half and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a one score game.

Late game mistakes, including a 16-yard loss on a fumble and lateral, downed the Huskies despite their comeback attempt.

Head coach Thomas Hammock said Vanderbilt put the Huskies in a hole early and kept them at bay enough to win.

“I thought our players responded and came out in the second half and fought and scratched to put us in the game,” Hammock said. “We spotted them 14 points on things that were easily avoidable, simple plays that we have to execute. It starts with alignment and assignment. Vanderbilt made enough plays to win the football game.”

The Huskies lost the game despite having more total yards and first downs than the Commodores. Senior quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 280 yards, including a 100-yard toss to Spencer Tears, redshirt senior wide receiver.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt redshirt senior running back, ran for a season-high 138 rushing yards less than 24 hours after celebrating the birth of his first child. Graduate quarterback Riley Neal threw for 189 yards.

It only took three plays on the Commodores’ opening drive before Keyon Brooks, first-year running back, broke free and scored on a 61-yard touchdown run.

NIU went three-and-out, and burned a timeout on its first possession before the Commodores quickly found the endzone again. Vaughn ran for a one-yard touchdown to put Vanderbilt up 14-0 with 8:57 still remaining in the first quarter.

After a 23-yard run on the next possession by Jordan Nettles, Huskie redshirt sophomore running back, neither team achieved a first down until the second quarter. In total, both teams would punt to end the next nine possessions.

Nettles had 63 rushing yards in the first half, and the Huskies had four more first downs, but the score remained 14-0 at halftime.

The Huskies came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders with Bowers finding Tears down field for a 44-yard completion. The catch set up a 39-yard field goal by Jonh Richardson, redshirt first-year kicker, to put NIU on the board.

After forcing a Vanderbilt punt, Mitchell Brinkman, redshirt junior tight end, caught a pass from Bowers and broke a tackle to race off for a 39-yard touchdown.

NIU made it a one possession game, down 14-10 in the third quarter.

The Commodores tricked the Huskie defense on Vanderbilt’s next possession to extend the lead. Vaughn tossed a handoff back to Neal on a flea flicker to find senior wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb for a 38-yard touchdown.

Vanderbilt’s next possession would be its longest, taking more than five minutes off the game clock. The drive was extended in part due to a targeting penalty on redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Cole, which resulted in his ejection from the game.

NIU’s defense stood its ground, allowing only a 27-yard field goal by Vanderbilt’s Javan Rice, redshirt first-year kicker, making the Vanderbilt lead 24-10 early in the fourth quarter.

Bowers helped the Huskies drive to Vanderbilt’s goal line with 79 passing yards in completions to wide receivers Tears, junior Tyrie Richie and redshirt sophomore Cole Tucker.

Marcus Jones, redshirt senior running back, finished the drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown. Bowers found Brinkman for the two-point conversion to make it 24-18.

NIU took back possession with 8:29 left in the game at its own 29 and quickly found itself in Vanderbilt territory.

Bowers fumbled a snap before tossing a lateral in desperation to Michael Love, first-year wide receiver, who lost 16 yards, and put NIU back on its own side of the field.

The Huskies punted two plays later and never got possession back, as Vanderbilt ran out the clock on a 24-18 win.

The result put both teams at 1-3 overall on the season, with NIU finishing its non-conference schedule with only one win for the second year in a row.

NIU starts Mid-American Conference play next week at home against the Ball State University Cardinals Saturday.

Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huskies Stadium.