The Northern Illinois Huskies (1-3) played well against the eight-ranked team in the nation, but were unable to make some big plays in the second half, ultimately falling to the Wildcats in the last moments by a final of 31-23. Kentucky moved to 4-0 on the season.
The Huskies were without starting quarterback Rocky Lombardi after he sustained an injury against Vanderbilt last week, meaning backup Ethan Hampton would lead the offense on Saturday. Hampton kept NIU in the game for most of it but still looked the part of a backup.
NIU came out strong in the first quarter, driving 75 yards on 11 plays and utilizing both Hampton and third-string QB Justin Lynch— younger brother of Huskie great Jordan—on the drive. Hampton hit tight end Tristen Tewes for a two-yard TD to open the scoring account, putting NIU up 7-0 early.
Kentucky countered with a long, 16 minute, 8-play drive of their own and tied the game on a 15-yard pass from Levis to Barion Brown.
After three straight punts, the Wildcats took the lead when Levis hit Treyvon Robinson for a 69-yard pass on third-and-eight. It would be the first of three touchdown passes on third-and-long for Kentucky, as the Huskies continued to blitz repeated on the crucial down.
NIU would tie the game game right before the half on a drive spurred on by a Kavosiey Smoke fumble. The Huskies used a wide receiver reverse pass from Shemar Thronton to Tewes to even it up with six seconds left in the half.
In the second half, the Huskie offense would once again sputter, letting the Wildcats build a 31-14 lead on 17 unanswered points, which included a pair of touchdowns on third-and-long— a 40-yard TD pass and a 70-yard TD pass — after NIU sent full blitzes on both plays.
NIU would get a 38-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 14, when the 38-yard attempt cut into the lead and made it a 31-17 game with just over 5:30 to go in the game.
After the defense picked up another stop on Kentucky’s offense, Huskie fans got to say “Lynch for 6!” again for the first time in nine years when Justin Lynch ran in a two-yard score late in the game, cutting the lead to eight after the missed two-point conversion.
The Wildcats were able to catch the onside kick, however, doing what they needed to do to run the clock down and claim a close win.
Next week, the Huskies start MAC play as they head to Indiana to take on the Ball State Cardinals for the Bronze Stalk Game. You can watch the game on ESPN+ at 2 p.m. CST.