The Northern Illinois Huskies had the lead and momentum heading into the second half. NIU scored on their first four possessions of the game and built up a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter.
However, without senior QB Rocky Lombardi - who went down with a non-contact injury early in the game - NIU went into a more conservative mode...and it ended up costing them. The Commodores scored 24 unanswered points and were able to run out the clock on their way to a 38-28 victory in DeKalb.
After a fantastic first half that saw Lombardi and Ethan Hampton combine for a 13/13 start, NIU transitioned to a more run-heavy offense and short throw offense that didn’t gain them many, if any, yards. NIU ended the day 19/26 passing for 203 yards with 3 TDs and an INT.
However, it was a defensive play that really shifted momentum to Vanderbilt. Midway through the third quarter the Huskies had Vanderbilt on the ropes with a 14 point lead and the Commodores going for it on 4th and 4 from the 21. On the play, a pair of Huskies had quarterback AJ Swann dead to rights and went for the sack...Swann somehow squeak out of the sack and found his halfback, Ray Davis for a touchdown.
The pass cut the lead in half and, from there, Vanderbilt never looked back - scoring on their next three possessions while holding NIU to just 34 total yards over their next four possessions.
NIU once again saw themselves out gunned as they had 354 total yards to Vandy’s 428. After their opening drive of the second half - a quick 69-yard TD pass to Cole Tucker - NIU managed just 78 yards over the final 28 minutes of the game.
The Huskie secondary was burned by Will Sheppard all afternoon. The Vandy receiver had ten catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Swann finished the day 18/28 with 255 yards and four TDs. On the ground Davis gained 116 yards and had a touchdown on 23 carries, as well as that receiving TD.
NIU finished with 203 yards passing; Lombardi going 7/7 for 79 yards and a score while Hampton ended with 124 yards, a score, and a pick on 12/19 passing. On the ground Northern gained 151 yards, with Antario Brown leading the way with 60 yards and a TD on eight carries (which included a 51-yard scoring run). Waylee had 17 touches for just 52 yards.
It doesn’t get any easier next week, as Northern heads to Lexington, Kentucky to face off against a ranked Kentucky Wildcats team. They’ll hope for Lombardi to return, as the offense just doesn’t look great without him under center.