COLUMN: Rocky Lombardi will save NIU’s season


Northern Star File Photo

Then-redshirt junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi rushes to the right against Eastern Michigan University at Huskie Stadium on Oct. 2, 2021. Lombardi made his return from injury in Saturday’s matchup against EMU.

By Tyler Murray, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: Tyler Murray is a sophomore communications major and serves as a sports reporter at the Northern Star. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Star. This is an opinion piece.

Senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi made his comeback last week when NIU football took on the Eastern Michigan University Eagles. The Huskies broke their five-game losing streak, beating the Eagles on the road giving the team their first conference win.

Lombardi went down in NIU’s third game against Vanderbilt University with an undisclosed leg injury. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Hampton took the reins of the offense for four weeks. The Huskies went on to lose all four games, including an overtime loss against Ball State University for the Bronze Stalk.

The offense was more successful with their starter back at the helm. Lombardi had a 73% completion percentage and threw for 115 yards. Senior receiver Cole Tucker was his number one receiver bringing in five receptions for 58 yards along with junior receiver Kacper Rutkiewicz who had 42 yards on three receptions. 

The Huskies looked like a bowl-caliber team with Lombardi back, and hopefully with his return, we will see NIU become bowl-eligible for a second year in a row. Last year, Lombardi led the Huskies to a 9-5 record which allowed them to play in the Cure Bowl against Coastal Carolina University. The Huskies lost in a close game with Coastal pulling away 47-41 in the fourth quarter.

Becoming bowl-eligible at this point will be no easy task. A team needs at least six wins in order to become bowl-eligible. In order to do this, the Huskies will need to win four of the five remaining games this season. NIU will take on Ohio University, Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Miami University and the University of Akron for its final regular season matchups.

With Lombardi back, I think the Huskies will be able to win out the rest of the season and become bowl-eligible once again. Obviously, there are many other key components necessary to win out. The defense needs to make necessary stops, the run game needs to be dominant and the offensive line needs to block. These components have been strong in the previous games with the team only lacking a solid passing game. 

Lombardi’s offense will definitely have a huge impact on the team. The passing will make a comeback in the coming weeks, along with the dominance of sophomore running backs Harrison Waylee and Antario Brown will present a big problem for opposing defenses. 

The Huskies take on the Ohio Bobcats (4-3, 2-1 MAC) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Peden Stadium in Athens, Ohio. The Bobcats currently sit at second place in the Mid-American Conference East Division and will present a tough game against the Huskies, but a win is necessary for postseason play.