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Rockets survive a late scare from NIU, win 35-33

The Huskies couldn’t complete the comeback they fall in a nail biter to Toledo.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Illinois Ron Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois quarterback Rocky Lombardi had a chance to get NIU into field goal range and potentially steal the game from the Toledo Rockets. At midfield, with just 10 seconds remaining, he went back to pass, stepped up in the pocket and then tried to scramble. He was pulled down, in bounds and short of a first down, giving the Rockets the 35-33 win.

The Rockets took the lead late in the first quarter, after when Toledo’s quarterback Dequan Finn found Jerjuan Newton for a 42-yard touchdown pass. It would be the first of many big plays for Toledo, as Finn had five passes go for more than 20+ yards and the Rockets as a team netted six plays of more than 20-yards on the Huskies defense.

NIU would quickly counter, after halfback Antario Brown had an 80-yard run on the drive that was capped off by a Lombardi read-option TD run, tying the game at seven. The Rockets would retake the lead on their next possession, after a 8-play, 70 yard drive ended on a 13-yard quarterback run from Finn.

The Huskies looked to tie it up a few possessions later but, on second and goal from the Toledo 2-yard line, fullback Brock Lampe would fumble the ball and the Rockets would recover and the half would end with a 14-7 Toledo lead.

It would quickly get pushed to 21-7 as the Rockets scored on their first drive out of the half, as Toledo went on a 8-play, 66-yard drive that was finished off by a 7-yard run from Jacquez Stuart. The Huskies came back with a field goal of their own, to make the score 21-10 with 8:02 left in the third.

The Huskies weren’t done there, as the NIU defense scored just 44 seconds later when they forced a fumble and Nate Valcarcel scooped it up and return it 50-yards for an NIU touchdown, cutting the lead down to four points, 21-17.

But the Rockets had no problems moving the ball on a Huskie defense that had been real solid until this point. Toledo would score on their next possession, bumping the lead back up to double digits, and then would hold NIU to a field goal - a 49-yard kick from Kanon Woodill - that kept the Rockets up 28-20.

Finn would strike just one play later, finding Vandeross for a quick 68-yard TD on the Rockets first play of the drive and giving them a 35-20 lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game.

The Huskie offense found a way to quickly score, going 68-yards in just 1:59 of game time. However, Coach Hammock opted to go for two, with more than nine minutes remaining in the game. The two point attempt, a wide receiver reverse pass, was not good and the Huskies were in a big hole, down two possession still.

NIU’s defense would play better in those final nine minutes, forcing three straight three-and-outs and giving the Huskies a chance. Lombardi would cut the lead to two points when he would manufacture a 7-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Chris Carter with 2:24 remaining.

After a quick stop, the Huskies got the ball back with 40 seconds and no timeouts remaining at their own 19. Lombardi hit Trayvon Rudolph for 16, then found Davis Patterson for 13 more and had NIU at midfield with 20 seconds left. But after a pair of incompletions, and just ten seconds left, he took off and was tackled in bounds to end the game.

Toledo tallied 542 yards to NIU’s 444, and was incredibly balanced - passing for 281 and rushing for 261. The Huskies had 258 yards passing and 186 yards rushing - their most on the season.

Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn finished the game 16/20 for 281 yards and two scores while rushing for 61 yards on seven carries. Junior Vandeross III had himself a day for Toledo, catches four passes for 147 yards - half of all of Toledo’s receiving yards on the day - which included that 68-yard TD pass from Finn in the fourth quarter.

Halfback Peny Boone led the Rockets with 113 yards on 16 carries but did have the fumble returned 50-yards for an NIU touchdown that helped keep the Huskies in the game. After the fumble midway through the third quarter, Stuart took the reigns for the Rockets and had 15 carries for 79 yards and a score.

For the Huskies, Lombardi finished the game 21/31 for 258 yards and had two touchdowns. Ten Huskies had receptions in the game, with no player gaining more than 45 yards in the air. Kacper Rutkiewicz led the team with five grabs and 45 yards.

On the ground, Antario Brown looked more like himself, rushing the ball 16 times for 152 yards.

Next week the Huskies head back to DeKalb where they’ll look to end their seven game home losing streak against the Ohio Bobcats. The game will kickoff at 3:30 pm EST (2:30 CST).

The Rockets will face off against former MAC team UMass when they head out to Amherst, Massachusetts to take on the Minutemen. That game will kickoff at noon Eastern and can be seen on ESPNU.