DeKALB – Coming off a career game at Georgia Tech, Harrison Waylee headed into halftime Saturday against Wyoming with eight carries for minus-3 yards. Another career day seemed beyond improbable.
But the Huskies got back into the game, and Waylee was a huge spark, running 26 times for 179 yards and two scores in the Huskies’ 50-43 loss to the Cowboys. NIU trailed by as many as 26 points before briefly taking a late lead.
“Really nothing changed,” Waylee said. “I just had to keep attacking it and the holes and the plays would connect.”
The low point for the Huskies came in the third quarter, when Rocky Lombardi threw his third interception of the game. Wyoming linebacker Chad Muma, who had 10 tackles in the game, leaped to make a grab on the ball at the line of scrimmage and returned it untouched 23 yards. The Cowboys (2-0) led, 42-16, with 6:03 left in the third quarter.
Lombardi responded with a drive that ended with a 40-yard pass to Trayvon Rudolph to make it 42-22 heading into the fourth. The Huskies (1-1) came away with a red-zone stop on a fourth-and-1 run by Xazavian Valladay, who was stuffed by Ray Thomas to prevent the first down.
Valladay finished with 101 yards on 21 carries after 11 carries for 64 yards in the first half.
Four plays later, Waylee was off to the races with a 75-yard touchdown run up the left side. All of a sudden, NIU trailed, 42-29, with 12:48 left.
“Our blocking was perfect,” Waylee said. “All I had to do was follow our blockers, and they gave me the hole that I had to hit. I took it and had a touchdown.”
It was time for another big play by Thomas and the defense to recover a backward pass by the Cowboys. Thomas fell on an errant throw at the Wyoming 14-yard line.
“All the guys did the little things right,” Thomas said. “We played the defense exactly the way we’re supposed to. He didn’t catch the ball, they tried to recover it, we swarmed him and tackled. The ball was loose, I fell on it and tried to score.”
He didn’t score. But it took Waylee one play to do so. Suddenly NIU was within 42-36 with still 12:35 left in the game.
The NIU defense then forced a three-and-out, the first and only time they would do so. The offense took advantage, this time with Clint Ratkovich making a pair of tough runs covered in Cowboys defenders inside the 6-yard line to give the Huskies a 43-42 lead with 4:56 left, their first of the game. after spending much of the first half down 18 points.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the defense did not have another stop in it. Wyoming went 75 yards in 10 plays to take a 50-43 lead.
The offense didn’t have another big play left either, stalling out after four straight incompletions from Lombardi.
“I feel like the team is maturing really fast,” Ratkovich said. “We do have a lot of young guys, but since I got here in January, the amount of maturity I’ve seen from now to then is just insane. And it shows today. We were down big, and none of the guys gave up. No one flinched. We just went out there and did our job.”