DeKALB – The break between the first and second quarters Saturday in NIU’s 27-20 win against Eastern Michigan was about 2 hours and 44 minutes longer than normal.
A lightning delay extended the Huskies’ homecoming win to almost six hours, presenting challenges for the NIU players and staff.
Coach Thomas Hammock said the key to the long break – and the uncertainty of it – is to stay relaxed.
“Credit to the young men in our program, that’s never easy,” Hammock said. “I’ve been a part of this one other time when I was at Wisconsin and we played Arizona [a 9-7 win in 2004 with a 88-minute delay], and it was a long delay like this one on the road. I’m grateful we were at home. We had excellent hospitality. We used the indoor, we kept them fresh. We kept them engaged.”
According to NCAA rules, the game must be delayed for 30 minutes if lightning strikes in the area of the stadium. A new lightning strike means the 30-minute countdown starts over. Not to mention teams get a 10-minute warm-up at the end of the countdown.
The clock Saturday got inside of 10 minutes at least twice before a new lightning strike started the process all over again.
“The hardest part is you didn’t know an exact start time,” Hammock said. “And we had a plan. At the 20-minute mark we would talk to the players for eight minutes, then we would take them into the indoor for eight minutes, then we would transition them to the field. We started that process a couple different times.”
Eventually, Hammock said they just took the players inside the Chessick practice facility. And since the team hadn’t eaten – the delay stretched until about the time the game would have normally ended – Hammock said getting the team fed became an issue as well.
“We did a little walkthrough and let them just sit in the locker room,” Hammock said. “But the big thing was we just wanted to get them something to eat. Dining services did a great job. We called over there, and they were able to get us something within 30 minutes, so we were able to get our guys something to eat, some fuel in their body. That’s a long time. We ate pregame meal at 10.”
Linebacker Dillon Thomas said the team took Hammock’s message of staying relaxed to heart.
“Guys weren’t uptight and overly focused and walking around with testosterone,” Thomas said. “We were chilling out. I laid down, took my cleats off, put my feet up, got the blood going. It was pretty good vibes.”
Apparently the team got the message. The break started at 2:44 p.m. right when the first quarter ended. At 5 p.m. the second quarter began. On the third play after the break, Jaden Dolphin picked EMU quarterback Ben Bryant on a pass tipped by Thomas and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown and a 17-0 lead.