NIU football suffers first loss to Buffalo since 1968

NIU%27s+offensive+line+lines+up+against+the+University+at+Buffalo%27s+defensive+line+Nov.+4%2C+during+the+Huskies%27+49-30+loss+to+the+Bulls+at+Huskie+Stadium+in+DeKalb

Patrick Murphy | Northern Star

NIU’s offensive line lines up against the University at Buffalo’s defensive line Nov. 4, during the Huskies’ 49-30 loss to the Bulls at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb

James Krause, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — The Huskies football team saw a close game against the University at Buffalo Bulls unravel Wednesday when they committed five turnovers in the second half en route to a 49-30 loss.

Buffalo reached the end zone on three of those turnovers. Fumbles by redshirt senior quarterback Ross Bowers and junior running back Erin Collins were both returned for touchdowns. Bowers also threw a pick-six in the fourth quarter. 

Head Coach Thomas Hammock said the Huskies can’t afford to give away easy points to a favored Bulls team.

“We can’t spot a team like that with 21 points,” Hammock said. “We can’t turn the ball over. We have to play clean football to give ourselves an opportunity to win. We’ll watch the tape and correct the things we made mistakes on.” 

Redshirt senior wide receiver Tyrice Richie said the turnovers don’t shake the confidence of the offense, who still outgained the Bulls in yardage and managed two late touchdowns to bring down the losing margin.

“We know what we have to work on and get better with in practice,” Richie said. “The running game was good, the passing game was good. There’s just things we have to sharpen up.”

Richie was one of the few bright spots on the Huskies offense not marred by turnovers, finishing with a career-high nine catches for 106 yards.

Turnovers on offense spoiled what looked to be a respectable game for the Huskies defense. The team held junior running backs Jaret Patterson and Kevin Marks to a combined 32 rushing yards in the second half after giving up two touchdowns to Patterson in the first.

Hammock said the early struggles in containing Patterson taught his defense a lesson they later learned from.

“[Patterson] is probably as good as we’ll see,” Hammock said. “It’s a good learning tool. We have to be able to tackle great players and he’s obviously a great player.”

Sophomore linebacker Nick Rattin led the defense with 10 tackles and said the backfield of Patterson and Marks presented a tough task to a defense that includes four true first-years.

“It was a good test for us,” Rattin said. “[Patterson] and Marks are good backs, and they’re a good team. They were a good test for us and it’s good to do well against guys like that early in the season.”

Patterson didn’t take long to start his attack of the young Huskies defense, finishing a three-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run.

After kicking a field goal for the Huskies, redshirt sophomore kicker Josh Richardson tried to catch the opponent off guard with an onside kick that went out of bounds. 

Buffalo scored on the ensuing drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Vantrease to senior wide receiver Antonio Dunn to go ahead 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.

Junior running back Erin Collins rushed for a six-yard touchdown on the next drive for his first score of his career as a Huskie, putting the score at 14-10.

The Huskies forced their first turnover of the season when first-year safety Jordan Hansen picked off Vantrease, but NIU was unable to capitalize with points.

The biggest play of the first half came where Patterson dodged several defenders on the way to a 56-yard rushing touchdown to extend Buffalo’s lead. The touchdown gave Patterson the school record in career rushing touchdowns.

With less than a minute left in the half, Bowers found junior wide receiver Cole Tucker on a 16-yard touchdown. A failed two-point conversion attempt made the score 21-16 at halftime.

The beginning of the end for NIU came on their first possession of the second half. Bowers fumbled the ball while evading pressure and junior linebacker Tim Terry recovered for Buffalo and returned it for a 46-yard scoop-and-score touchdown.

On the following drive, Collins had the ball forced out and recovered by junior cornerback Isaiah King for another fumble recovery return touchdown. 

The Bulls added their third touchdown of the quarter with a four-yard touchdown rush by Vantrease. It was Buffalo’s third score in less than three minutes, putting Buffalo up 42-16 with 6:09 left.

Turnovers continued to pile up with another fumble, this time by redshirt first-year running back Rondarius Gregory.

Bowers turned it over again in the fourth quarter when he threw an interception that was returned 65-yards for a touchdown by senior linebacker Kadofi Wright. Bowers was benched after the interception, finishing the game going 17-for-28 for 202 passing yards and a touchdown.

NIU’s backup quarterbacks found some success in garbage time. Redshirt senior quarterback Andrew Haidet found the endzone on a quarterback sneak at the goal line and redshirt sophomore quarterback Rodney Thompson scored on a 13-yard rush.

The Huskies ended their night on the note that had persisted throughout the second half, with Thompson fumbling and Buffalo recovering to run the clock out on the win.

The Huskies’ loss is their first to Buffalo since 1968 and moves them to 0-1 on the season.

NIU will remain in DeKalb for their next contest, hosting the Central Michigan Chippewas at 7 p.m. on Nov. 11.