Note: This recap appears in the Sunday, Oct. 13 newspaper on Page B1.
Ohio’s hopes for a MAC East title took a major hit on Saturday when Northern Illinois rallied from a 21-10 halftime deficit to stun the Bobcats, 39-36, on Homecoming at Peden Stadium.
John Richardson converted a 37-yard field goal on the game’s final play to help the Huskies (2-4, 1-1 MAC) snap out of a four-game losing skid.
After winning 10 straight home games from 2017-19, Ohio (2-4, 1-1 MAC) has now dropped consecutive home games the season. The Bobcats now trail Kent State (3-0 MAC) by one full game in the MAC standings.
“It’s definitely disappointing, but you got to keep going man,” said Ohio senior safety Javon Hagan.
Northern Illinois scored on each of its final five possessions. The Huskies finished with 510 total yards and 39 points, but garnered 29 points and 372 yards in the second half alone.
Quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 338 yards and a touchdown, with one interception, and RB Tre Harbison had 113 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 25 carries.
NIU was held to negative-2 rushing yards in the first half, but piled up 173 on the ground in the second. Harbison had more than 100 yards rushing in the second half alone.
NIU also had a pair of 100-yard receivers with flanker Cole Tucker (8 for 118) and tight end Mitch Brinkman (5-100) both breaking the century mark.
“That’s a good question,” Ohio head coach Frank Solich said when asked how his defense came unglued in the second half.
“We played two quarters of good football,” he added. “It is bothersome.”
The loss spoiled a terrific day for Ohio senior quarterback Nathan Rourke. Rourke completed 19 of 31 throws for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He added a team-high 80 yards rushing and another touchdown, and picked up his second career touchdown reception.
Redshirt freshman running back O’Shaan Allison added 79 yards rushing, but just nine in the second half. Redshirt freshman receiver Shane Hooks had the first 100-yard game of his career with seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown.
But Ohio had to be perfect offensively in the second half, and wasn’t.
“The third quarter really hurt us,” Rourke said. “We weren’t able to put them away.”
NIU dominated the third quarter with three straight touchdown drives. Backup QB Marcus Childers started the onslaught with a 70-yard run on a called draw, and Harbison scored two plays later from the four to pull to within 21-16.
Harbison scored again, this time from the one, to give NIU its first lead at 22-21 with 3:13 left in the quarter.
After Ohio failed on a fourth-and-two try from the NIU 37, the Huskies made it 29-21 when Bowers found Tyrice Richie for a 30-yard TD on third-and-12.
Ohio tied it with 8:25 left when Rourke hit Ryan Luehrman on a pass in the left flat for an eight-yard touchdown. On the two point conversion try, Julian Ross took Rourke’s option pitch to the left and scored to knot it 29-29.
But NIU made it four touchdowns in four straight drives on the next series. Two big third down throws from Bowers — the second covering 46 yards to tight end Mitchell Brinkman — set up another Harbison touchdown run. After Harbison scored from the three, NIU led 36-29 with 5:15 remaining.
The ‘Cats wasted no time tying it back up. Rourke ran for a pair of first downs, then hit Hooks in stride deep down the middle. Hooks carried a defender into the end zone to complete the 47-yard scoring play and it was 36-36 with 3:38 left.
But the Bobcats couldn’t find a way to get a stop. NIU needed eight plays on its final drive to set up Richardson’s winning kick from the Ohio 19-yard line. With first place in the MAC East on the line, the Bobcats’ defense came up short.
“Not stopping the run game hurts,” Solich said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do…some investigating to do to figure out what we need to do better and maybe differently on defense.”
Ohio led 21-10 at halftime thanks to trick plays, timely defense and an unorthodox sequence of events.
The Huskies took a 7-0 lead less than three minutes in after Corey Lersh blocked a Michael Farkas punt. Adam Buirge tracked down the ball, and scored from the three on the same play. It was the first blocked punt in seven years (2012) for OU.
The lead didn’t last long as Ohio answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive, and Rourke scored on an eight-yard run to the left pylon on a read keeper.
John Richardson converted a 51-yard field goal on NIU’s first offensive possession and the Huskies led 10-7 after the first.
Ohio went to the bag of tricks to grab a double-figure lead. A reverse pass, from D.L. Knock to Rourke for a two-yard score, gave OU a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter.
With less than four minutes left in the half, Ohio used another ‘special’ to make it 21-10. Rourke made a play fake inside, looked to his right, then came back to his left with an overhand, backward lateral to left tackle Austen Pleasants. Pleasants scored untouched on the two-yard rushing play.
“I don’t even know what happened after I got it,” Pleasants said. “I blacked out a little bit.”
NIU was held to negative rushing yards in the first half, and missed a pair of field goals — of 39 and 44 yards.
Northern Illinois 39, Ohio 36
NIU — Adam Buirge, 3-yard blocked punt return touchdown (John Richardson kick), 12:53, 1Q
Ohio — Nathan Rourke, 8-yard run (Louie Zervos kick), 8:06, 1Q
NIU — John Richardson, 51-yard field goal, 5:49, 1Q
Ohio — Nathan Rourke, 2-yard pass from D.L. Knock (Louie Zervos kick), 12:14, 2Q
Ohio — Austen Pleasants, 2-yard run (Louie Zervos kick), 3:36, 2Q
NIU — Tre Harbison, 4-yard run (pass failed), 9:44, 3Q
NIU — Tre Harbison, 1-yard run (pass failed), 3:13, 3Q
NIU — Tyrice Richie, 30-yard pass from Ross Bowers (Richardson kick), 12:08, 4Q
Ohio — Ryan Luehrman, 8-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Zervos kick), 8:25, 4Q
NIU — Tre Harbison, 3-yard run (Richardson kick), 5:15, 4Q
Ohio — Shane Hooks, 47-yard pass from Nathan Rourke (Zervos kick), 3:38, 4Q
NIU — John Richardson, 37-yard field goal, 0:00, 4Q
Northern Illinois — Tre Harbison 25-113 3 TDs, Marcus Childers 2-75, Jordan Nettles 1-(-2), Ross Bowers 3-(-17); Ohio — Nathan Rourke 12-80 TD, O’Shaan Allison 11-79, Julian Ross 9-26, Austen Pleasants 1-2 TD, Team 1-(-9).
Northern Illinois — Ross Bowers 23-39-1 338 TD, Marcus Childers 1-1-0 3; Ohio — Nathan Rourke 19-31-0 258 2 TDs, D.L. Knock 1-1-0 2 TD, Isiah Cox 0-1-0.
Northern Illinois — Cole Tucker 8-118, Mitch Brinkman 5-100, Danie Crawford 5-21, Tyrice Richie 2-44 TD, Michael Love 2-16, Dennis Robinson 1-25, Marcus Jones 1-17; Ohio — Shane Hooks 7-131 TD, Ryan Luehrman 4-53 TD, Cameron Odom 3-30, Isiah Cox 2-27, Adam Luehrman 1-10, Ty Walton 1-6, Nathan Rourke 1-2 TD, D.L. Knock 1-1.