DeKALB — Redshirt first-year kicker John Richardson emerged from Athens as the Huskies’ hero, kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired for a 39-36 win over the Ohio Bobcats.
Richardson converted on the kick after missing two of three previous attempts during the game. The kicker said confidence from his teammates settled his nerves in a pressure situation.
“I knew that the snap and hold were going to be great,” Richardson said. “I knew the line was going to block just like they had all year. I just had to be confident in myself because my team had confidence in me. It was tough missing earlier. I knew I had to deliver for my team.”
After trailing 21-10 at halftime, NIU scored on its last five possessions of the game to end a four-game losing skid. Head Coach Thomas Hammock said this game showcased the Huskies’ determination.
“We were resilient,” Hammock said. “It was a team effort. I liked the fight of our team. We wanted to play four quarters of Huskie Football, not getting too high or too low, just play the next play. The difference today was guys making plays. We talked to our guys at halftime about making plays.”
Redshirt junior running back Tre Harbison finished the game with 113 rushing yards and three touchdowns, after gaining just five yards in the first half.
Senior quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 338 passing yards, and redshirt junior wide receiver Cole Tucker lead the team in receiving, with eight catches for 118 yards.
The Huskies’ defense limited Ohio’s star senior quarterback Nathan Rourke enough for the win.
Despite the loss, Rourke threw for 258 yards and scored two touchdowns in the air, while scoring a rushing and receiving touchdown.
Special teams helped the Huskies on the opening possession of the game.
Redshirt junior fullback Corey Lersch blocked an Ohio punt that allowed redshirt senior safety Adam Buirge to recover the ball and score a touchdown.Rourke and the Bobcats quickly rebounded, and marched into the NIU redzone on their next drive, finishing the drive with an eight-yard rushing touchdown.
Richardson made a career-long 52-yard field goal, which put NIU ahead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Ohio drove into Huskie territory before the Bobcats’ veteran Head Coach Frank Solich pulled off a trick play to surprise NIU. The Bobcats snapped the ball directly to O’Shaan Allison, redshirt first-year running back, who pitched it to Isiah Cox, redshirt sophomore wide receiver. Cox found Rourke all by himself in the endzone for a two-yard touchdown catch, giving Ohio the 14-10 lead.
After pulling off its rendition of the Philly Special, Ohio used more playbook magic to extend its lead before the half, when Rourke found an unconventional receiver in Austen Pleasants, redshirt senior left tackle. Pleasants was wide open for a two-yard touchdown lateral, and made it 21-10 at halftime.
While NIU struggled running the ball in the first half, redshirt junior backup quarterback Marcus Childers gave the Huskies new life in the second half.
Switching off with Bowers, Childers gained 70-yards on a quarterback keeper to put NIU inside the Bobcats’ redzone. Harbison finished with a two-yard touchdown run with a failed two-point conversion, making it 21-16.
NIU’s next possession took less time, as Harbison rushed for a score from the Ohio goal line for his second touchdown of the game. NIU took the lead, but another failed two-point attempt made it slim at 22-21 at the end of the third quarter.
The Huskies’ defense forced an Ohio turnover on downs to start the fourth quarter, allowing Bowers and the offense to extend the Huskies’ lead. Bowers found junior wide receiver Tyrie Richie on a 30-yard touchdown pass, making the NIU lead 29-21.
Rourke kickstarted the Bobcats’ offensive rally on their next drive by rushing for 25 yards and finding junior tight end Ryan Luehrman for an eight-yard touchdown pass. Ohio tied the game at 29-29 with a two-point conversion.
Bowers found Mitchell Brinkman, redshirt junior tight end, for 48 yards on a critical third down to set up NIU at the Ohio three-yard line. Harbison finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to put NIU back in front with 5:15 remaining in the game.
Under pressure, the Bobcats quickly answered with a 20-yard rush by Rourke on the first play of the drive. Rourke later found Shane Hooks, redshirt first-year wide receiver, on a long 48-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 36-36 with 3:38 remaining.
With the pressure now on the Huskies, a 22-yard rush by Harbison put NIU over midfield with more than two minutes remaining. The offense set up a 36-yard field goal attempt from Richardson with three seconds remaining.
After an attempt by Ohio to freeze the kicker, Richardson hit the go-ahead field goal down the middle of the posts as time expired. Huskie players and coaches rushed the field as NIU took the lead for the last time, 39-36.
Both teams overall records move to 2-4, as well as 1-1 in conference play. NIU will return to Ohio next week for a road matchup against the Miami of Ohio RedHawks.