Five takeaways from NIU football’s 27-24 win at Boston College

Huskies take own ACC opponent for 2nd time in 3 years to open season

Northern Illinois long snapper Isaac Hatfield (91) and defensive tackle Devonte O'Malley (8) celebrate with teammates and fans after defeating Boston College in overtime, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023, in Boston.

CHESNUT HILL, MASS. – NIU football held two 14-point leads but was forced to overcome a feverish fourth-quarter comeback to beat Boston College 27-24 in overtime Saturday. The Huskies had lost their previous three meetings with the Eagles.

Here are five takeaways from NIU’s season-opening win:

QB Rocky Lombardi provides the overtime heroics

Following a stunning fourth-quarter rally by Boston College, Liam Connor made good on a 39-yard field on the first possession of overtime to give the Eagles a 24-21 lead.

But it took NIU only four plays to respond, and Lombardi ran a 1-yard sneak up the middle to give the Huskies and coach Thomas Hammock another win against an ACC opponent on the road. NIU defeated Georgia Tech 22-21 in Atlanta to open the 2021 season.

Defense falls apart

NIU kept Boston College off the board and allowed just 135 yards in the first half, but things quickly took a turn for the worse in the second half.

The Huskies led 21-7 entering the fourth quarter and had a chance to put the game away when the Eagles went for a fourth-and-10 at the NIU 13. Boston College quarterback Thomas Castellanos’ pass was incomplete, but cornerback JaVaughn Byrd was flagged for pass interference.

Castellanos then scrambled for a 2-yard touchdown with 5:59 left in regulation. He later threw for a 30-yard score to Jaden Williams to force overtime.

Lombardi still finding his footing

It was a slow start for Lombardi, who appeared in only four games last season because of injury.

Lombardi completed 5 of 11 passes for 89 yards in the first half. He went finished with 165 yards on 13-for-29 passing, but his fumble with 6:53 left in the third quarter gave Boston College possession at the NIU 25.

The Eagles turned that giveaway into points, scoring five plays later on Castellanos’ 11-yard touchdown pass to Lewis Bond.

Castellanos was recruited by the Huskies during the offseason after he entered the transfer portal after one year at UCF.

Breaking through

It took more than 27 minutes for either team to score, but NIU finally broke through with 2:44 left in the first half.

A 32-yard completion to Chris Carter got the Huskies into the red zone before they worked their way down to the 2-yard line. Although a false start pushed it back to the 7, NIU had no problem finding the end zone, as Justin Lynch took a direct snap and found fellow running back Antario Brown on a screen pass for a 7-0 lead.

Brown scored again to open the third quarter, doubling the Huskies’ advantage when he capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard rush.

Brown goes down

Brown went down with 13:20 left in the fourth quarter and had to be helped off the field by trainers. He was not putting any pressure on his right leg.

Prior to exiting, Brown rushed for 53 yards on 16 carries. His only reception was his 7-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half.