Huskies’ second-half rally falls short in Tulsa


David Crenshaw

Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi evades Tulsa graduate linebacker Grant Sawyer duing a pass attempt in the first half of Thursday’s matchup. Lombardi led the Huskie scoring with three touchdowns through the air.

DeKALB — The Huskies rallied in the second half behind quarterback Rocky Lombardi’s big night, but came up short in a 38-35 loss to University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane on Saturday.

After a slow start, the Huskies’ offense came out firing in the second half, scoring 28 points including three touchdowns from redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi.

“You know, that’s what I expect to do,” Lombardi said. “I expect to go out there every week and put up performances like that.”

Junior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz, who transfered from Illinois State University this offseason, made a big impact for the Huskie offense on Saturday by scoring his first two NIU touchdowns and helping get the offense going.

NIU’s running game was very limited in Saturday’s game, as the Tulsa defense was able to gameplan well and limit the three running backs. Last week, the Huskie running backs rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns; this week they were only able to combine for 120 yards and one touchdown. This opened up the passing game for Lombardi, which is why he had such success in the second half.

The Huskies’ defense was not productive in stopping Tulsa’s redshirt senior quarterback Davis Brin in the first half, but was able to settle in better in the second half.

“I thought that after we settled down and after the first half,” coach Thomas Hammock said, “I thought our guys (the defense) really started playing good football.”

The Huskie defense came away with an interception late in the first half by redshirt freshman safety Muhammad Jammeh, the first of his collegiate career. The following NIU offensive drive was capped off by a Lombardi touchdown pass to Rutkiewicz which put NIU on the board in the first half.

The Golden Hurricane dominated the first half, going into halftime with a 24-7 lead over the Huskies. NIU struggled to get the run game going in the first as they totaled only 61 yards in the rushing game. Lombardi went 5-for-10 passing for 59 yards and a touchdown in the first half.

The second half started off hot for the Huskies as they drove down the field and scored on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Lombardi to Rutkiewicz for their second connection of the game.

Following the touchdown pass, NIU kicked an onside kick and recovered.

“It’s something we practiced all week,” Hammock said. “Just trying it in the right situation and the kids went out there and executed.”

The NIU offense scored on an 8-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Antario Brown to cut the Golden Hurricane lead to 24-21.

Lombardi checked down to redshirt senior wide receiver Cole Tucker for a 33-yard touchdown which gave the Huskies a 28-24 lead, their first of the night.

Tulsa converted a 4th and goal for a touchdown pass, Brin to graduate wide receiver Keylon Stokes to put Tulsa back in the lead in the fourth quarter, 31-28.

NIU got the football back and nothing happened with the drive, NIU punted the football back to Tulsa. The punt was muffed by Stokes and recovered by NIU, giving them a chance to retake the lead.

NIU took the ball down to the one yard line, and Lombardi punched it in on the ground to give the Huskies a 35-31 lead in the fourth quarter.

The Huskies got the football back after a fourth down stop by the defense. The offense turned the ball over on downs with 1:54 left to go in regulation with NIU hanging on to a 35-31 lead.

Tulsa drove down the field and scored a one-yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Steven Anderson to give the Golden Hurricane a 38-35 lead with under a minute to play.

The Huskie offense lost the game on a bobbled pass by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Fabian McCray that was intercepted by graduate cornerback Tyon Davis, which sealed the victory for Tulsa. Tulsa kneeled the ball down to end the game. NIU is now 1-1 on the year and are in second place in the Mid-American Conference West Division.

NIU returns to Huskie Stadium at 2:30 p.m. Saturday when they will play the Vanderbilt University Commodores. The game can be watched on CBS.