DeKALB – Harrison Waylee was on his way to his fourth 100-yard rushing game of the season when he took a hard hit in the second quarter and didn’t return.
He finished short of the 100-yard game, but Antario Brown – a true freshman playing his first college snaps – did get there.
Brown ran for 101 yards on 16 carries in his debut, helping the Huskies eat the clock and ice the game in their 27-20 win over Eastern Michigan in the MAC opener. The game had about a 3-hour delay because of lightning.
“I’m going to be honest – I was nervous. I’m nervous right now,” Brown said. “Heart was beating outside my shirt. But they kept me up, saying I got this. ... I just remembered my training and played.”
NIU (3-2, 1-0) had three full drives in the second half, each one lasting at least four minutes and two resulting in points. Brown was featured heavily on all three drives after he didn’t play in the first half.
Hammock said Brown, who has been behind Waylee and Jay Ducker on the depth chart most of the season, is going to be a very good player.
“This guy is really special to me. He knows it,” Hammock said. “I was the first one to get a hold of him in the recruiting process and I stayed on him. We built a bond and a relationship in that time over COVID. It’s crazy.”
Hammock said he’s wanted to get Brown more touches, but he needed to grow and mature. He said the freshman from Georgia who is believed to be the highest-rated recruit in school history has done that.
“He walked by my office a couple weeks ago and said, ‘I’m happy to be here,’ ” Hammock said. “That just really touched me. He’s going to be a heck of a player for us. He wants to get better. There are some things he wants to do better. But what a start. We counted on him as an offense and boy did he come through for us.”
Hammock said there was no information yet on Waylee’s status.
Brown was featured in the second half after the defense helped the Huskies build a 17-0 lead in the first half against the Eagles (3-2, 0-1).
Lance Deveaux started with a sack on quarterback Ben Bryant that caused a fumble, recovered by Ray Thomas. Quarterback Rocky Lombardi punched the ball in from five yards out for the first score of the game.
The Eagles were facing a third and short on the next drive when Dillon Thomas recorded the first of his two sacks to force a punt, and NIU turned that possession into a field goal.
NIU sacked Bryant on EMU’s first three possessions and finished the game with five sacks.
“I think we had three on the first three drives. That’s just an incredible start,” Thomas said. “We managed to keep trying to pound them and stay consistent on the defense the whole time.”
The lightning delay struck between the first and second quarters, and on the third play of the second quarter, Jaden Dolphin returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown.
Hammock said the coaches had told Dolphin he had the potential to get a pick entering the game. Dolphin said the team had practiced the look a lot in practice this week, and he was in the right place at the right time when Thomas tipped the pass at the line.
“I saw a lot of open field and got a little bit excited,” Dolphin said. “I tried to hit and then celebrated with my teammates.”