In a blatant display of hypocrisy, the Northern Illinois Huskies (9-5, 7-2 MAC) were denied one final play from the 4-yard line, allowing for the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (11-2, 6-2 Sun Belt) to escape with a 47-41 victory over NIU.
The Huskies, who had just converted a 4th-and-1 play and picked up a first down, saw their receiver fumble the ball out of bounds at the 4-yard line with :02 seconds left. But, despite the fact that NIU converted the first down AND that the ball was fumbled out of bounds (both of which should have stopped the clock), the clock operator prematurely started the clock — with an official blocking NIU from snapping the ball (which alone should have signaled the clock operator to NOT start the clock) — allowing for the final seconds to tick away, giving Coastal Carolina a 47-41 win.
Sadly, in a similar situation at the end of the first half, the Chanticleers had a player clearly tackled IN BOUNDS with six seconds remaining but, when the refs stopped play to take a look at it, they somehow awarded CCU an extra four seconds and allowed for them to kick a field goal right before the half...NIU, however, would get no such review and it quite literally cost them the game.
In a tight game that saw nearly 90 points and combined for more than 1,000 total yards, the Huskies and Chanticleers went back and forth all game long. The second half saw five lead changes alone but it was Braydon Bennett’s 34-yard touchdown pass from Grayson McCall, with 6:40 to go, that put Coastal up for good.
The Huskies and Chants were quite evenly matched all game long, with NIU netting 516 yards and Coastal finishing with 514 yards. NIU relied on the run game, racking up 335 yards on the ground to 181 passing, while Coastal Carolina was the polar opposite, passing for 315 and rushing for 199.
NIU opened up the scoring on their first drive when they took the ball 75-yards in just over five minutes, scoring on a 5-yard pass from Rocky Lombardi to Cole Tucker. Coastal would counter with a touchdown drive of their own but the Huskies would block the extra point and keep a slim 7-6 lead.
The Huskies and Chants scored on every drive in the first half (with the exception of NIU kneeing the ball with :01 second left) and on the first four possessions of the second half, leading to the record for most points scored in the Cure Bowl (88), shattering the old record of 71 which was set last year.
At the half NIU held a 24-19 lead after scoring on two passing touchdowns from Lombardi, a two-yard TD run from Ratkovich, and a John Richardson field goal. The teams traded touchdowns on their first two possessions of the second half, which quickly had the score up to 38-33 NIU.
The first punt didn’t come until the 3:13 mark in the third quarter, when Coastal was forced to punt on 4th-and-11 at their own 24-yard line. That punt allowed NIU to drive down and kick a field goal, giving the Huskies’ an eight point lead.
On CCU’s very next possession, they would score a touchdown but fail to covert on their two-point attempt, allowing for the Huskies to keep a slim 41-39 lead.
NIU would get stuffed on 4th-and-1 at midfield and the Chants would take advantage just one play later, scoring on a 34-yard pass from McCall to Bennett and converting their two-point attempt, going up 47-41 with just over six minutes remaining in the game.
On their next possession, NIU would drive some but find themselves dealing with a 3rd-and-14 from their own 48. On the play, Lombardi would take off and run for 17-yards but Lombardi didn’t see a defender coming in from his right side. Silas Kelly hit the Huskie quarterback from his blind side and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Chants.
Northern’s defense would step up, stopping CCU on three straight plays, and force a Chanticleer punt that gave the offense one last chance from their own 13-yard line with 2:23 to go.
The Huskies, doing what they do best, nickled-and-dimed their way down the field, chewing up clock. NIU quickly found themselves with a first and ten from the CCU 17-yard line. With 27 second remaining, Lombardi hit Messiah Travis for seven yards but Travis was hurt on the play. The Huskies had no timeouts left and were forced to take a 10-second runoff, giving them just :17 seconds from the Coastal 10-yard line.
After a short gain and a quick incompletion, it was 4th-and-1 from the 8-yard line with just seven seconds remaining. Lombardi quickly hit tight end Miles Joiner for a four yard gain, who then fumbled the ball out of bounds with two seconds left.
The refs then denied the Huskies the chance to snap the ball, blocking Lombardi from getting under center AND starting the clock prematurely, allowing for those final two seconds to tick away. The officials then refused to even look and the play and simply ended the game, giving the Cure Bowl win to Coastal.
It’s the seventh straight bowl loss for the Huskies and Coach Thomas Hammock’s first bowl loss as the leader of the Huskies.
However, NIU, who has one of the youngest rosters in the NCAA, should be primed for another great season in 2022, where they’ll look to end their decade long bowl drought.