Well, if we waited all year to see the essence of Northern Illinois football, this might have been it. Where else are we going to see Rocky Lombardi throw for a passer rating of 101.85 in a six-point loss where the Huskies also failed to convert a single third down?
Both those stats came to fruition on a snowy and picturesque Halloween night, as the Northern Illinois Huskies (4-5, 3-2 MAC West) couldn’t complete a late second-half rally on the road against the Central Michigan Chippewas (5-4, 3-2 MAC West), falling by a final score of 37-31.
This game had almost everything except for defense and Central Michigan passing. Lombardi’s CMU counterpart, Jase Bauer, went for 9-of-16 and 116 yards (averaging 12.88 yards per completion) with a lone passing touchdown (to Mitchel Collier) and no interceptions. The star of the Chips’ evening was running back Marion Lukes, who accounted for 202 of Central’s 331 rushing yards on the day, scoring once on a highlight-reel 46-yard scamper where multiple Huskies missed open-field tackles.
The rest of the running game gets some credit as well, with Bauer picking up 106 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries while Sam Hicks ran in on an outside sweep in the redzone to give CMU four total rushing touchdowns.
Central built up a sizeable halftime lead, partly off two Northern Illinois fumbles and partly off Lukes running like a man possessed. It could have been a lot worse for the Huskies; a bad snap resulted in a fumble subsequently returned for a touchdown by CMU defensive lineman Quindario Lee near the end of the second quarter, but the score was called back for a batted ball penalty. The teams would go into the break with CMU up 24-3.
But after halftime, it felt like the teams switched places; Central scored their last points in the front half of the third quarter, and Northern mounted a mad scramble comeback which ended with an interception into triple coverage with 1:07 left to play.
Lombardi finished 20-of-35 for 298 yards and three touchdowns, as well as the interception to CMU defensive back Nahree Biggins at the end of the game. NIU depended on the explosive plays all night, with a 61-yard Antario Brown touchdown run and a 72-yard touchdown pass to Trayvon Rudolph getting NIU’s 28-point second-half rally started. Lombardi would also find Grayson Barnes for a 22-yard scoring strike and Dane Partridge for a six-yarder in the fourth quarter to bring the game within a touchdown.
Northern Illinois is set to play Ball State in DeKalb in their next contest, looking to keep their chances of a bowl game alive. Central, meanwhile, looks to earn back both the Victory Cannon and Michigan MAC trophies against their Western counterparts in Kalamazoo.
Both games are set to kick off on November 7th at 7 p.m. Eastern time.