SIU 14, NIU 11: Five takeaways from the Huskies’ second straight loss to the Salukis

Northern Illinois' Antario Brown gets outside of Southern Illinois' Branson Combs during their game Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Huskie Stadium at NIU in DeKalb.

DeKALB – The NIU football team followed its win at Power 5 Boston College to open the season with a 14-11 loss to FCS Southern Illinois on Saturday at Huskie Stadium.

It was the second straight win for the Salukis (2-0) over the Huskies (1-1). SIU won in DeKalb in the teams’ last meeting in 2007.

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

Tough defense, no points

The Huskie defense was strong throughout the game, allowing 219 total yards. But it was especially strong in the second half. On the first two drives of the fourth quarter, NIU held the Salukis to three-and-outs. After the Huskies failed a fourth-down conversion with 7:58 left, SIU started at its own 47.

But the drive stalled out at the 24, and the Salukis missed their field-goal attempt. The teams traded three-and-outs, and NIU started its final drive with 1:54 from the SIU 37 after a 7-yard punt.

But the drive only reached the 35 when Rocky Lombardi threw his third interception of the game, this one to Ubayd Steed. Lombardi threw for 297 yards, but the Huskies only ran for 63, averaging 1.9 yards per carry.

Getting back into things

Down 14-3 late in the third, the Huskies got back into the game with a drive that started at their own 1. On second-and-16 from the 38 early in the fourth, Lombardi found Kacper Rutkiewicz on a 62-yard bomb for a touchdown.

NIU wasn’t done with the fancy-looking pays, as a sweep to Rudolph turned into a pass from the former high school quarterback to a wide-open Lombardi for the two-point conversion.

After a three-and-out, the Huskies got the ball back and tried the same deep pass to Rutkiewicz on the second play of the drive, but Lombardi was intercepted by Desman Hearns. The defense obliged with another three-and-out, giving the Huskies the ball back still down three with 10:40 left.

Missing their chances

In the first half, the Huskies had a golden chance to take the lead, but couldn’t. After a Tom Foley punt backed the Salukis up at their 1 and SIU went three-and-out, NIU took over on the SIU 43. But Northern Illinois only got as far as the 30, settled for a field-goal attempt by Jake Seibert and missed.

The defense followed with a couple of lapses that led to a SIU score. Nic Baker found an uncovered Aidan Quinn for 36 yards down to the 15, and the only reason he didn’t score is Cyrus McGarrell chased him down. Two plays later, the Huskies bit on an option, pursuing running back Jaelin Benefield while Baker went unnoticed into the end zone for the 7-0 lead with 1:58 left in the first quarter.

At the end of the half, the Huskies put a meticulous drive together to get down to the SIU 30 in the final minute. But Lombardi had a pass go horribly off target that was intercepted by Mark Davis

Kick in the head

Seibert had two misses in the first half. After his 47-yard attempt would have put the Huskies up early, he missed a 42-yarder in the second quarter.

The Huskies were driving in the second half with a drive that started at their own 12 but got down to the SIU 25 after a 20-yard Lombardi pass to Chris Carter. But again the drive fizzled, and again Siebert was to attempt a field goal. And again it missed, as the Salukis maintained their 7-0 lead.

Bad third-quarter start

Averaging 1.6 yards per rush in the first half, the Huskies opened the second half with a play-action pass. But like the two passes that followed, it was incomplete, and the Huskies went three-and-out in just 17 seconds.

The Salukis had no such offensive woes, even though NIU outgained them in the first half. They went 57 yards in just five plays, with Ro Elliot capping the drive with a 10-yard TD. And like the last scoring drive, this one included a big play to an uncovered Quinn to get things started. This time it was an 11-yard pass.

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