Ducker, Rudolph lead in NIU victory

With a 34-26 win against Bowling Green, NIU is one win shy of bowl eligibility.


Scott Walstrom | NIU Athletics

Freshman running back Jay Ducker carries the ball during the first half of NIUs 34-26 victory against the Bowling Green Falcons, Saturday in Dekalb.

By James Krause

DeKALB — A 210-yard rushing performance and a kickoff return for a touchdown were the highlights of the Huskies 34-26 victory over the Bowling Green State University Falcons on Saturday.

NIU is now 3-0 in Mid-American Conference play and a win away from bowl eligibility. Head coach Thomas Hammock said his team is being rewarded for sticking to their guns after a winless season last year.

“10 months ago we were 0-6 and now we’re 5-2,” Hammock said. “So what changed? We didn’t mass change schemes or people. We just continued to go to work and practice extremely hard. Our practices are like games every day on both sides of the ball. That’s why when we find ourselves in these kinds of games, there’s no panic.”

After an injury forced him into action, freshman running back Jay Ducker had 211 rushing yards on 32 carries. The 210 yards on the ground is the most by an NIU player since Jordan Lynch in 2013.

Ducker missed the 2020 season with an injury and was on the scout team just a few weeks ago, but his focus on getting back on the field has paid off.

“My mindset was ‘What can I do to get on the field,’” Ducker said. “I just went back to scratch, starting with my X’s and O’s and just broke down what I can do to show I can play at this level.”

Ducker is the fourth different Huskie player to rush for 100 yards and third running back to do so. While the health status of fellow freshman running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown is unknown, Hammock said there’s sure to be plenty of competition for the starting tailback spot.

“What a great position to be as a coach,” Hammock said. “These guys will be motivated to practice, and whoever practices the best is going to get opportunities. I’ve been in this position before, and all of those guys turned out to be draft picks.”

COVID-freshman wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph had a pair of touchdowns, including a 100-yard kick return touchdown late in the second quarter. The freshman All-American kick returner hadn’t run a kickoff back for six prior to today.

“I go out there every kickoff trying to find a way to get a touchdown,” Rudolph said. “This one, we went to the left. I saw my blockers washing them to the left side and I looked back inside and saw a big hole.”

Junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi only threw the ball eight times, finishing four-for-eight, with 38 passing yards. By contrast, the Huskies held Bowling Green senior quarterback Matt McDonald to 16 completions on 41 passes.

I just went back to scratch, starting with my X’s and O’s and just broke down what I can do to show I can play at this level.

— Jay Ducker- Freshman running back


The Falcons threw a wrench in NIU’s game plan in the first quarter when they recovered a fumble by Brown. On top of the fumble, Brown left the game with an injury after the play.

Bowling Green capitalized off the fumble with a four-yard touchdown rush by junior tight end Christian Sims, making it 7-0 after the first quarter.

NIU got on the board with a Lombardi two-yard rushing touchdown that saw the quarterback dive and spin into the endzone to tie the game.

With Brown injured, the Huskies had to rely on their depth. On the second collegiate carry of freshman running back Mason Blakemore’s career, the Centralia-native Blakemore rushed for a 17-yard touchdown to put NIU in the lead.

The Falcons scored a field goal in the final two minutes of the half, but NIU responded in explosive fashion. Rudolph scored a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown, tying former Huskie Tommylee Lewis for the program record for longest kick return touchdown.

A field goal by Bowling Green before the half made it 21-13 at halftime. The two teams traded field goals to start the second half before Lombardi found Rudolph in the endzone for a 20-yard touchdown pass.

The two teams traded field goals again before Bowling Green got control of the ball down 34-16 in the fourth quarter.

A pass by McDonald to junior wide receiver Austin Osborne was deflected by an NIU defender. Osborne grabbed the deflection with one hand and ran into the endzone for a 36-yard touchdown catch to make the score 34-26 Huskies.

NIU stopped Bowling Green from scoring on two straight drives thanks to a turnover on downs. Redshirt freshman James Ester recorded a sack on third down that helped force a long fourth down.

The Huskies ran the clock down to 1:09, leaving Bowling Green scrambling late and unable to score again.

The Huskies final Saturday game of the season will come next week against the Central Michigan University Chippewas in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. CDT on ESPNU.