DeKALB — Late in the second NIU offensive drive, with the game tied about midway through the second quarter, redshirt freshman quarterback Ethan Hampton was suddenly thrust into action of an eventual 38-28 loss on Saturday.
Redshirt senior quarterback Rocky Lombardi was off to a hot start through the air, going 7 for 7 with 79 passing yards, with an opening-drive touchdown. But after sliding awkwardly at the end of an 8-yard scramble play, he was sidelined for the duration of the game.
With the ball at the Vanderbilt 15, Hampton entered the game. After four straight runs, the Huskies were at the Commodores’ 4-yard line. On the next play, Hampton saw Kacper Rutkiewiecz running across the goal line, and threaded a four-yard touchdown pass to the backup receiver for a 14-7 NIU lead.
Hampton said scoring on his first drive helped him get into a rhythm, but he felt ready to go from the moment he stepped on the field thanks to his preparation.
“It helps [to score on the first drive]. I had confidence going in the first play, though,” he said. “As a backup quarterback, you gotta prepare like the starter. You gotta be a leader like a starter, so coming in, it doesn’t matter what play, I had the confidence throughout the whole game. It didn’t really change.
“I was prepared for the moment. I could’ve played better, always can. I made mistakes a little bit down the stretch, but now I’m just getting ready for next week, preparing for Kentucky.”
NIU coach Thomas Hammock was impressed with how his backup quarterback handled himself, especially in his first real game action since making one spot start in relief of Lombardi last year.
At the same time, he wished the offensive supporting cast would’ve helped more, particularly in the second half when things went awry.
“I thought he handled it well. I thought he was prepared, he’s taken a lot of snaps. Obviously, he’s played just one game of football for us, but he came in and we were able to execute the offense,” Hammock said. “But when your backup quarterback comes in, everybody else around him has to play better. And I think we didn’t take enough pressure off of him. And I think, obviously, those are the things that we gotta work on this week.”
Hammock said the Huskie coaching staff has a lot of confidence in Hampton, and as a result, didn’t feel the need to change their game plan to account for the quarterback switch.
“We stayed with the game plan. We’ve got great confidence in Ethan. We wanted to mix it, the run and the pass,” he said. “He came in, he was executing well. They started bringing more pressure. We gotta be able to make sure the pocket is clean for him. That interception, he got hit, so those are the things that can’t happen as we try to keep the pocket clean for him.”
Hampton went 4 for 4 for 23 yards and a touchdown in his first two drives, and finished the game 12 for 19, with 124 passing yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown was a 70-yarder to Cole Tucker.
As the Huskies look ahead to their Week 4 matchup against Kentucky, they’ll have to wait and see if Lombardi will be available.
“Obviously, we’ve gotta check with the doctors and see about the long-term,” Hammock said. “He’s walking around, which is always a good thing, so hopefully he can come back.”