DeKALB — The football team closed a season of highs and lows with a 17-14 win Tuesday over the Western Michigan University Broncos and sent off 18 seniors in their final Huskie career game.
Head Coach Thomas Hammock said the seniors led a motivated group of underclassmen into what he believes to be a highlight win for his career.
“I couldn’t be prouder of a group of men,” Hammock said. “I told them in the locker room that in 17 years of coaching, this is the proudest I’ve ever been.”
The Huskies sealed the game with a forced fumble by redshirt sophomore cornerback Dillon Thomas recovered by redshirt senior safety Mykelti Williams with 2:02 minutes remaining in the game. Thomas said the game was an exclamation point on a season where he started off as a backup safety.
“It’s just been crawling up from the bottom,” Thomas said. “I just go out and compete every day and try to do well for my coaches to show I’ll go wherever I can be useful. I just want to help. Tonight was a staple, more so for the seniors.”
Among the seniors closing out their careers was redshirt senior defensive lineman Quintin Wynne, finishing with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss. Wynne said winning in the final game of many players’ careers will mean a lot for young players moving forward.
“I think this win added to the culture around here,” Wynne said. “The young guys learned from it, and I think our leaders knew what we had to do tonight.”
The win came hours after NIU Athletics confirmed that Tre Harbison, redshirt junior running back, entered the transfer portal and wouldn’t play in the season finale. The running back group of redshirt senior Marcus Jones, redshirt sophomore Jordan Nettles and first-year Rondarius Gregory combined for 117 rushing yards while rotating in for Harbison.
“These guys are tough,” Hammock said. “Jones got us started; Nettles gave us some quality work. For [Gregory] to go out there, he had been on our futures team all year battling and looking great. For a young man to walk on and join this program, he was ready for the moment.”
WMU reached the NIU redzone on the Broncos’ first possession of the game, but the Huskies prevented a score with a big special teams play. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Cole blocked a Broncos field goal attempt to keep the game tied.
The only score of the opening quarter would be a 44-yard field goal by John Richardson, redshirt first-year kicker, to give NIU a 3-0 lead.Broncos senior quarterback Jon Wassink set up another WMU field goal attempt with a 44-yard rush into NIU territory. Sophomore kicker Gavin Peddie couldn’t convert on his attempt and sent the 46-yard kick left of the uprights.
The Huskies scored on their next offensive snap thanks to a heads-up play by junior wide receiver Tyrice Richie.
Richie never touched the ground on an attempted tackle following a flip pass by redshirt junior quarterback Marcus Childers, allowing the wide receiver to rise to his feet and run for a 71-yard receiving touchdown.
Three receptions by Skyy Moore, first-year wide receiver, helped set up the Broncos with good field position before the half. However, junior defensive end Matt Lorbeck knocked the ball out of Wassink’s hands for a fumble recovery by redshirt senior safety Trayshon Foster.
The Huskies ran out the remaining second quarter clock to lead 10–0 at halftime. The Broncos were held scoreless in the first half for the first time this season.
Bellamy helped take the zero off the board for the Broncos, setting up a redzone opportunity with a 55-yard rush to start the second half. The senior running back finished the drive with a six yard rushing touchdown to make it 10–7.
Where the offense struggled to make the most of its opportunities, the Huskies’ defense made its best one of the night thanks to a sack by Jack Heflin, redshirt junior defensive tackle, pinning WMU at its own 2-yard line.
After a punt return put the Huskies well inside WMU territory, Nettles picked up his biggest gain of the night with a 26-yard rush. The Huskies’ touchdown came on their most anticipated trick play of the year.
“We’ve been practicing that the whole year, and I’ve been waiting for them to call it,” Michael Love, first-year wide receiver, said on the lateral play where he threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Brinkman, redshirt junior tight end.
The Broncos responded with their own touchdown a minute later when Bellamy avoided all the NIU defenders for a 16-yard touchdown run. NIU still led 17–14 with 6:25 remaining.
The Huskies started running down the clock late to force WMU head coach Tim Lester to use all three of his timeouts. A first down by Childers with a little over two minutes remaining seemed to seal the deal, but he fumbled possession to WMU.
On the very next play, Thomas forced a fumble following a completion that Williams recovered. The Huskies ran out the remaining 2:02 to pick up the win.