Vanderbilt Commodores beat Huskies on NIU Family Day

Rocky Lombardi leaves game with injury in second quarter


Marco Sotelo Avila

Redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Hampton (left) fakes a pass after a handoff to sophomore running back Harrison Waylee during the second quarter of Thursday’s game against the Vanderbilt University Commodores. The play resulted in no gain. Waylee had the most rushing attempts in the game, carrying the ball 17 times for 60 yards.

DeKALB — A third quarter resurgence by the Vanderbilt University Commodores (3-1, 0-0 SEC) saw NIU’s (1-2, 0-0 MAC) 28-14 lead turn into a 38-28 loss on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

Starting passer goes down

Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi started this game where he left off last week against the University of Tulsa. He started the game 7-for-7 on pass attempts with 79 yards and a touchdown.

Lombardi suffered a non-contact injury in the second quarter, and was unable to return to the game. His timetable for return is currently unknown. Lombardi’s injury occurred after a rushing play that ended with a slide. He was slow to get up but was able to walk off on his own. Lombardi was later ruled out of the game after being examined.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Hampton filled in for Lombardi for the remainder of the game. Hampton finished with 124 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

“I was prepared for the moment,” Hampton said. “I could have played better. I made mistakes a little bit down the stretch, but I gotta get ready and prepare for next week.”

Hampton made his 2022 debut Saturday after starting NIU’s season finale last year against the Western Michigan University Broncos on Nov. 23, 2021. He went 4-for-10 for 23 yards and no touchdowns.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Cole Tucker was the leading receiver for the Huskies. Tucker caught four passes for 88-yards and two touchdowns.

The NIU defense was unable to stop the Vanderbilt offensive attack in the second half. The defense gave up 24 unanswered points, from the middle of the third quarter to the end of the game, to the Commodores.

“We gotta figure out a way to play four quarters,” head coach Thomas Hammock said, “That’s what we are searching for right now, the ability to play four complete quarters, and we have yet to do that in the first three games.”

Vanderbilt opened the game with a three-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback AJ Swann to redshirt senior tight end Gavin Schoenwald.

The Huskies responded right back on a deep throw from Lombardi and an acrobatic catch by redshirt sophomore wide receiver Fabian McCray put the Huskies at the one-yard line.

A quick pass to the corner of the end zone to Tucker put the Huskies on the board and tied the game.

After coming into the game, Hampton threw a four-yard touchdown to junior wide receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz on his first drive following Lombardi’s injury.

The Huskies got the ball back with four minutes remaining after the defense forced Vanderbilt to punt. Sophomore running back Antario Brown broke free and rushed for a 51-yard touchdown to give the Huskies the lead with 37 seconds left in the first half.

At halftime, NIU led Vanderbilt 21-14 and had 11-for-11 passing for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Brown was NIU’s leading rusher in the first half after gaining 60 yards on five attempts and one touchdown.

One minute into the second half, Tucker ran a slant route over the middle and ran 70-yards for a touchdown.

Going downhill

Vanderbilt’s freshman wide receiver Jayden McGowan fumbled on the next drive. The ball was forced out by junior cornerback Jordan Gandy and recovered by sophomore safety C.J. Brown.

Brown was able to return the fumble all the way inside Vanderbilt’s 10-yard line but was called back due to a personal foul on the Huskies.

It was all Vanderbilt the rest of the game after the Huskies punted the football back to the Commodores.

Vanderbilt went on to score three unanswered touchdowns as well as a field goal.

Swann completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to senior running back Ray Davis in the third quarter, Davis’ second touchdown of the game.

Vanderbilt junior wide receiver Will Sheppard (left) making a 13-yard touchdown reception against NIU sophomore cornerback Javaughn Byrd during a game on Sept. 17 at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb. Sheppard finished as the game’s leading receiver after catching 10 passes for 171 yards and a pair of touchdowns. (Marco Sotelo Avila | Northern Star)

Junior wide receiver Will Sheppard caught a ball in the end zone after a 31-yard pass from Swann.

Swann connected with Sheppard for the second-straight drive as the Vanderbilt offense found the end zone late in the third quarter. Sheppard racked up 171 yards on 10 receptions and also had two touchdowns.

The Huskies were beginning to drive down the field in an attempted comeback until Hampton was pressured and threw an interception to junior safety De’Rickey Wright.

Vanderbilt ran the last few minutes off of the clock to end the game.

NIU has now lost its last two games following last week’s loss against the University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane. The Huskies will take on the University of Kentucky Wildcats at 6 p.m. Saturday in Lexington, Kentucky.