COLUMN: Depth gives NIU title hopes

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Courtesy of Scott Waltstrom/NIU Athletics

Freshman running back Mason Blakemore runs with the ball in the first half of NIU’s 34-26 victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 16 at Huskie Stadium. Blakemore scored his first career touchdown in the second quarter.

Skyler Kisellus, Assistant Sports Editor

Despite injuries at key positions in recent weeks, NIU’s depth players showed off their abilities in a conference matchup against the Bowling Green State University Falcons Saturday.

In the first half, redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi only completed one pass on two attempts. Instead of relying on his arm, Lombardi utilized his legs as he ran four times, cashing one in for a leaping touchdown for NIU’s first score of the game.

With freshman running back Harrison Waylee inactive after suffering an injury during the homecoming game against Eastern Michigan on Oct. 3, freshman running back Antario Brown became the bell cow of NIU’s rushing attack.

After Brown sustained an injury of his own early in the first quarter, freshman running back Jay Ducker filled in nicely, garnering 102 yards on 13 carries in the first half. He maintained his production for the final two quarters of the game, finishing with 210 yards on 33 carries and averaging 6.4 yards per attempt.

The last player to achieve 200 rushing yards in a game was former Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch in a regular season contest on Nov. 26, 2013, where Lynch ran for 321 yards, an NCAA quarterback rushing record.

The Huskies’ running game also saw flashes from freshman running back Mason Blakemore, who had a 17-yard touchdown rush midway the second quarter, the first of his collegiate career.

The Huskie offense stuck by the ground game, running the ball 59 times and only attempting eight passes. Over the course of the game, NIU spread the ball around as seven different players touched the ball. 

The Huskies special teams also made history despite being without redshirt junior wide receiver Cole Tucker, who typically serves as NIU’s primary punt returner.

Freshman wide receiver Trayvon Rudolph scored a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown in the closing minutes of the first half, tying a record for the longest kickoff return in school history. Rudolph also went on to catch the only touchdown pass of the game from Lombardi.

Meanwhile, in the defensive secondary, freshman cornerback Myles McGee served as a starting cornerback role with fellow freshman cornerback Eric Rogers out Saturday with an injury. McGee and the rest of the secondary only allowed 16 completions on 41 passes and one touchdown through the air from Falcons senior quarterback Matt McDonald.

After starting the season with penalty issues, both sides of the ball showed discipline as they limited themselves to four penalties for 30 yards compared to Bowling Green’s seven penalties for 55 yards. In the first six games of the season, NIU had been penalized 39 times for 347 yards, an average of 6.5 penalties per game.

With their running backs producing at a high level and the defense remaining relatively healthy, the Huskies look to have a good shot at competing for the Mid-American Conference title in December.

As they prepare for their final five games of the regular season, the Huskies should have full confidence in their depth. Despite being without some starters, for the time being, the team has shown that it can maintain its level of production.

The 5-2 Huskies will look to continue their success as they head to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, to play the 4-3 Central Michigan University Chippewas at 11 a.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcasted on ESPNU.