ATLANTA – Northern Illinois entered Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech on a six-game losing streak, their last win coming on November 26, 2019, against Western Michigan.
Vegas was unfriendly to the Huskies, placing them as 19.5-point underdogs and ESPN’s Football Power Index giving Georgia Tech an 83.8% chance to win the game. For Huskies head coach Thomas Hammock, he liked those odds – and he was right.
The Huskies topped the Yellow Jackets in come-from-behind fashion, winning 22-21 on a late touchdown and two-point conversion.
“Last season was over last season,” Hammock said. “We moved on from last year in December. We wanted to handle the environment and make it a four-quarter game.”
The Huskies took a 14-7 lead into the half, but Georgia Tech tied the game with 7:44 left in the final frame with a 15-yard rush. Two plays later, Harrison Waylee – who had a career-best 144 rushing yards – fumbled the ball at the NIU 25-yard line, setting Georgia Tech up for an easy touchdown to take the lead.
“It’s difficult to shake yourself off after a play like that,” Waylee said. “But my teammates picked me up and told me to pick my head up and I told them the next time I get the ball I’d execute.”
Northern Illinois stopped the Georgia Tech offense and had a chance to tie the game with 2:42 left and the ball on their own 20-yard line. Rocky Lombardi, who had just 44 passing yards in the first half, hit Tyrice Richie on a jump ball to get the Huskies into Yellow Jacket territory.
On the next play, Lombardi hit Miles Joiner for a 16-yard gain to get the Huskies down to the 25-yard line of the Ramblin’ Wreck. Richie came up huge again, getting the ball down to the nine-yard line with 1:00 left.
NIU ran a QB rollout with Lombardi on second and goal, and the transfer from Michigan State hit Clint Ratkovich in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, cutting the Jacket lead to 21-20.
“Rocky is such a good leader,” Hammock said. “He’s an extension of our coaching staff. He handled the blitzes well and he made a play to go win.”
Hammock and the Huskies went for two and the win instead of the tie. Lombardi rolled out of the pocket again and hit Richie for a third time on the drive, who made a bobbling catch that was reviewed and upheld.
“I caught it,” Richie said. “I told my teammates and coach I caught it. I take pride in catching the ball. I know I’m going to get hit a lot, but I’m going to catch the ball.”
The Huskies held on to the win after forcing Georgia Tech to attempt a 60-yard field goal as time expired, their third attempt of the night. The Huskie defense stood strong again, blocking the kick and securing the 22-21 victory.
Michael Kennedy was credited with the blocked kick and C.J. Brown with the recovery.
“I don’t know who blocked the kick, but I’m glad they did,” linebacker Lance Deveaux said. “This defense is going to keep fighting. We bend don’t break. We always go out there and execute no matter what happens.”
For the Huskies, it was a win in their first game against a Georgia school and their first win in 648 days. For Hammock, he said it’s a good feeling, but a brief one.
“We’ll celebrate this one tonight be we have to get ready for next week,” Hammock said. “Today was a step in the right direction but we have to go back to work and continue to get better.”
The Huskies return to DeKalb Saturday to take on the Wyoming Cowboys of the Mountain West Conference.