Instant replay: Frantic NIU comeback from 26 down falls short against Wyoming

DeKALB — Down 26 against Wyoming, NIU took the lead in the fourth quarter but fell to the Cowboys, 50-43, on Saturday.

Here are five takeaways from the comeback that almost was:

Wild last two minutes

NIU had a chance to tie or win the game late, but Rocky Lombardi missed four straight passes from the Wyoming 46-yard line with 0:53 seconds left.

Lombardi converted a third-and-10 to Cole Tucker to keep the drive alive earlier, but the magic ran out.

Wyoming QB Sean Chambers converted a third-and-long on the final drive to ice the game after NIU used all three of its timeouts.

Wyoming had taken the lead back, converting two third-and-9 situations and scoring with 1:35 left on a 9-yard run by Chambers. Isaiah Neyor caught the two-point conversion for the 50-43 lead.

Ratkovich wills Huskies to first lead

The Huskies took the lead for the first time in the game, after trailing as much as 42-16, with 4:56 left in the game when Clint Ratkovich plowed in from 3-yards out. The Huskies converted third-and-3 earlier on the drive when Lombardi found Mohamed Toure for 4 yards.

Before Ratkovich scored and put the Huskies up, 43-42, he had another 3-yard run in which he was stopped at the line but carried three or four defenders to gain 3, capping the 27-0 run for NIU.

Waylee’s turnaround sparks comeback

In the middle of the second quarter, Ratkovich broke off a 52-yard run, and three plays later he found his way into the end zone for the first of his three touchdowns on the day.

But even with that run, the Huskies ran for a total of 52 yards in the first half. Harrison Waylee, after nearly 150 yards at Georgia Tech last week, had -3 rushing yards on eight carries at the break.

But Waylee found his groove in the second half, finishing the game with 179 yards. Within 13 seconds in the fourth quarter, Waylee had touchdowns of 75 yards and 14 yards as NIU pulled to within 42-41. Ray Thomas recovered a fumble on a backwards pass to set up the two consecutive scores.

It was Waylee’s fourth straight game over 100 yards and a new career-high for the second-year freshman.

Valladay as good as advertised

Wyoming running back Xazavian Valladay, from Matteson, Ill., was a handful for the Huskies, going for 151 total yards and a rushing touchdown.

Valladay proved hard to bring down, and took advantage of the holes provided by the Wyoming line. Every run in the first half went for at least 3 yards and he was almost never brought down on first contact.

His lone rushing touchdown came with 12:21 in second quarter, putting Wyoming up 21-3.

Other Cowboys make the Huskies pay

While Valladay was the workhorse, Neyor and linebacker Chad Muma both had monster games for the Cowboys.

Muma led the team in tackles including nine in the first half alone.

Neyor had three touchdowns, a 33-yard catch that gave Wyoming a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter, a 19-yarder in the second from Chambers that grew the Cowboys lead to 28-10 and a third-quarter run that put Wyoming ahead 35-16.

Eddie Carifio

Eddie Carifio

Has been the sports editor in DeKalb since 2014.