ORLANDO, Florida — The clock was ticking as NIU faced a first and goal at the Coastal Carolina 4-yard line with two seconds left down six.
The clock continued to run even though the referee placing the ball was still in the way, and that’s how NIU’s season ended in a 47-41 loss to the Chanticleers in the Cure Bowl, the seventh straight bowl loss for the Huskies.
“They saw it how they saw it,” Hammock said. “We were ready to snap the ball, and the guy didn’t allow us to snap the ball. We had a call, we were ready for it and we at least would have loved to have a chance to get the ball off.”
The Huskies went 0-6 in 2020, and despite the bowl loss, ended the 2021 campaign on a high note with a record of 9-5 and won a MAC championship. Northern Illinois head coach Thomas Hammock stated the team had to battle numerous players having to quarantine due to illness and still being able to put on a good showing in the Sunshine State.
“We had 20, 25 guys who had to quarantine and sit at home,” Hammock said after the game. “Couldn’t be more proud of the effort, the fight. Credit to the Coastal Carolina football team. They played their butts off and they beat us. This can be a launching pad for us heading into the 2022 season. Obviously I’m hurt for the seniors. I wanted them to go out with a victory.”
Northern Illinois amassed 516 yards of offense, with running back Jay Ducker leading all rushers with 146. The Huskies ended the night rushing 55 times for 335 yards and throwing for 188. Antario Brown was the team’s second-leading rusher on the night, going for 105 yards on 12 carries.
“I thought offensively we really controlled the game, were able to do the things we wanted to do to give ourselves a chance to win,” Hammock said. “We just didn’t play well enough defensively. That’s something we’ve got to improve upon for next season.”
Coastal Carolina quarterback Grayson McCall led the way for the Chanticleers on offense, with the redshirt sophomore throwing for 315 yards, four touchdowns on 22 of 30 passing. The Chanticleers’ leading rusher on the night was Bennett at 113 yards on just six carries. Several lead changes took place in the third quarter, but the Huskies would extend their lead to begin the fourth quarter.
Northern Illinois kicker John Richardson connected on a 45-yard field goal with 12:07 left in the fourth quarter to give the Huskies a 41-33 lead. Coastal Carolina ended up scoring two touchdowns in the final quarter of play, which one would come immediately after a failed fourth and 1 attempt by Northern Illinois when running back Colin Ratkovich was stopped for no gain.
On the next play, Bennett scored on a 34-yard touchdown pass for the go-ahead score.
“We’ve been aggressive all season,” Hammock said about going for it on 4th and 1 up 41-39. “We didn’t come to a bowl game not to win. If you’ve been watching us this season, we’ve been going for it on those same situations. We didn’t get it. (Coastal Carolina) made a stop. What we weren’t going to do was kick the ball and have them go down and score a touchdown. We felt like our offense is our strength. We wanted to play to our strength.”
The Huskies would have two more opportunities to retake the lead. After Coastal Carolina retook the lead, Lombardi fumbled, recovered by the Chanticleers. But the defense held and Northern Illinois would get the ball back with just over two minutes to go, and drove down to Coastal Carolina’s 4-yard line.
“Rocky was making some great plays,” said wide receiver Cole Tucker, who had a first-quarter touchdown to open the scoring. “We put the ball in the air there and we were looking to score.”
Hammock said he was proud of his team’s performance in the loss.
“We were a 12-point underdog, I didn’t see that on tape. We played them toe-to-toe,” Hammock said. “That’s a good program and I think we’re on the same level. And I think we’re going to continue to get better. We’re the second-youngest team in college football. We’ve got 19, 20 starters coming back and we’re going to try to climb the mountain again.”