Richardson makes history, wins game for NIU

Kicker ties the program record for field goals in a game during NIU’s 22-20 road win over Toledo

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Sean Reed | Northern Star

Redshirt sophomore John Richardson kicks a field goal in the second quarter against the University of Maine on Sept. 25. Richardson tied the school record of five made field goals in a game with his game-winning kick against Toledo on Oct. 9.

James Krause, Sports Editor

DeKALB — A record-setting performance by redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson was capped with a game-winning field goal in NIU’s 22-20 victory Saturday over the University of Toledo Rockets on the road.

Richardson converted a 28-yard field goal to put NIU up with 26 seconds left and tying the NIU program record of five made field goals in a game. The Orland Park-native now has two game-winners in two visits to Toledo, which he said was a satisfying way to beat a rival.

“It’d be awesome to come in here and beat the crap out of Toledo,” Richardson said. “Beating them like that is probably our second best option.”

While it wasn’t the blowout Richardson wanted, head coach Thomas Hammock said the team is built to win close games like the Huskies have seen frequently this season. The win Saturday is their third by one-score or fewer.

“Our players were resilient,” Hammock said. “They didn’t let any calls affect their play. They kept playing together, and these are the types of games we want to play. We are mentally and physically tough enough to win these games.”

Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn is rushed by NIU redshirt sophomore linebacker Dillon Thomas in NIU’s 22-20 win over Toledo on Oct. 9. (Courtesy of Toledo Athletics)

Hammock said Richardson’s reliability gave the Huskies confidence in the final minutes. Richardson now sits at 32-for-38 on field goals over his career.

“We’ve got tremendous confidence in him,” Hammock said. “Once we got the ball down there, we knew ‘Okay, let’s get it in position for him to kick it.’”

The game-winning kick was set up by a pass by junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi to redshirt senior wide receiver Tyrice Richie for 34 yards, the longest NIU passing play of the day. Richie finished the game with eight catches for 98 yards.

“Rocky did a great job,” Hammock said. “The way he handled that four-minute situation was perfect. He gives us a chance every time we play.”

Freshman running back Antario Brown started in place of COVID-freshman running back Harrison Waylee, who exited last week’s game with an injury and didn’t travel with the team to Toledo. Brown had 94 rushing yards and the Huskies only touchdown.

NIU dominated the Rockets in the early going, reaching Toledo territory on all six of their first half possessions. However, the Huskies were forced to settle for field goal attempts on four of those drives, with another ending in a pass from Lombardi being intercepted by sophomore cornerback Chris McDonald.

The closest the Huskies got to a touchdown early was an overturned score by redshirt senior running back Clint Ratkovich. With the ball inside the one-yard line, the Huskies committed a false start and eventually missed a 22-yard field goal.

Despite the miss, Richardson was three-for-four in the first half, including a pair of makes from 43 yards.

The Rockets broke through in the second quarter with a 40-yard touchdown run by junior running back Bryant Koback.

Koback scored again on the Rockets’ next drive, catching a screen pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Dequan Finn and taking it for a 75-yard touchdown to make it 14-9 with 2:45 left in the second quarter.

Brown finally broke the goal line for NIU on the ensuing drive, breaking away from the defense for a 37-yard touchdown to make it 16-14 at halftime.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Huskies extended their lead with 6:19 left in the fourth on a 47-yard field goal by Richardson.

On the ensuing drive, Toledo had a touchdown pass from Finn to redshirt freshman wide receiver Jerjuan Newton nullified by a holding penalty. On fourth down, the Huskies committed a pass interference penalty that gave the Rockets a second chance.

The Rockets took the lead with 3:35 left to play on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Finn to wide receiver Devin Maddox. A failed two-point conversion kept the win in reach for NIU with the score at 20-19.

After a defensive pass interference call went against Toledo, Lombardi threw a rainbow pass down the field to Richie to give NIU first and goal. The Huskies forced Toledo to burn all of their timeouts before Richardson connected on the go-ahead field goal.

Toledo had a final desperation lateral broken up by the Huskies to secure the 22-20 win. NIU’s record moved to 4-2, with their Mid-American Conference record remaining perfect at 2-0. 

The Huskies return home to DeKalb next week when they host the Bowling Green State University Falcons. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Huskie Stadium, with the broadcast being on ESPN+.