COLUMN: NIU’s story told through Richardson celebration


Khavon Thomas | Northern Star

Redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson sets to launch the game-winning field goal in NIU’s 30-29 victory over the Ball State Cardinals on Nov. 10 at Huskie Stadium. The win is now NIU’s third this season by a single point.

By James Krause

When the field goal by redshirt sophomore kicker John Richardson sailed through the uprights to give NIU the 30-29 win over the Ball State University Cardinals, the Huskies dashed to the opposing sideline to take back the Bronze Stalk Trophy.

“We practiced that,” head coach Thomas Hammock said. “That’s what we practiced. I’m sure it took the Ball State guys by surprise.”

Richardson, feeding off the adrenaline and with a head start on everyone, was the first to the Ball State sideline. He knew before everyone else that this was not like they practiced.

“I think we assumed the trophy was over there, and it wasn’t,” junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi later said with confusion. “I guess it was in the locker room.” 

“It was in the locker room?” Hammock followed.

Yeah, there was no trophy — just a bunch of Gatorade and confused Cardinals players. Richardson improvised a celebration in a way that, for a few moments, made him every college football fan’s favorite player. 

He spun around in a circle with his hands up. He shrugged, running back onto the field. Then, finally, he told the world watching that he had ice in his veins.

Besides landing Richardson at the top of SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt that night, the botched celebration was the perfect epitome of NIU’s victory. Things hadn’t gone right for NIU several times that night, celebration not included. 

Turnovers on two drives in the first quarter allowed Ball State to take a 10-0 lead, but the Huskies charged back and made it a tie game at halftime.

A holding call on the second-half opening drive took away what was a 20-yard rush by COVID-freshman running back Jay Ducker. Instead, NIU was pinned at their own 10-yard line, where they eventually saw a blocked punt result in a safety and eventually a nine-point lead for Ball State.

NIU improvised and somehow came back to take the lead and then win the game, their third this season by a single point.

“They stuck to it,” Hammock said. “We found a way to score one more point than them. I know you guys laugh at me sometimes, but that’s all that matters — being able to score one more point than their opponent. We’ll coach up the details, get in the film room and correct mistakes. For us to have two turnovers and find a way to win, I just love what our kids are doing.”

NIU is the youngest team in the Mid-American Conference, with 77 freshmen. They don’t have a head coach with decades of head coaching experience. The starting lineup isn’t littered with three and four-star recruits. Hell, some were walk-ons over a year ago.

But three times this year, they’ve just had enough driving them to get them one more point than their opponent. Whatever it is that’s driving them is the difference between the Huskies crawling through another year of rebuilding and sprinting your way to a potential MAC title opportunity in all their bizarre, awkward, arm-flailing glory.