Northern Illinois stuns with 16 unanswered points in the second half to upset Ohio 23-13

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – Northern Illinois (3-5, 2-1 MAC) dominated the second half to upset Ohio (5-2, 2-1 MAC) 23-13.

On a cold windy day in DeKalb, Illinois, the Bobcats played their third homecoming game in a row. And like the weather, both offenses came out cold, back-to-back three and outs kicked off the contest. 

Northern Illinois got the ball back after Ohio’s sluggish start on offense, and immediately flipped the script. Gavin Williams gashed the Bobcats defense for a 53-yard touchdown run, 7-0 Huskies. 

That score in the first quarter were the first points Ohio has given up in the first 15 minutes since San Diego State on Aug. 26.

Facing their first deficit in the first quarter since their Week Zero loss, the Bobcats put together a solid drive of their own. They marched down 51-yards, but their drive stalled in the red zone and Ohio was forced to settle for three. Freshman Gianni Spetic knocked down the 27-yard attempt to make it a 7-3 ballgame. 

That score held for the rest of the first quarter and Ohio trailed after 15 minutes for the first time this season. 

That deficit wouldn’t last long. Just five minutes into the second quarter, quarterback Kurtis Rouke ran it in from a yard out to give Ohio its first lead of the day, 10-7. The drive for the Bobcats was 13 plays for 60 yards and took over seven minutes. 

With all of the momentum, Ohio continued to pour it on. It got the ball back with six minutes left in the half and put together another methodical drive. The Bobcats drive went 16 plays and was capped off by a 37-yard field goal from Gianni Spetic to make it a 13-7 game going into the break.

At the half, Ohio was an impressive 7-for-10 on third down. 

The start of the second half mirrored the first.

Ohio came out and went three and out to start the third quarter. Northern Illinois gashed the Bobcats again when quarterback Rocky Lombardi found Grayson Barnes for a 58-yard touchdown and the lead, 14-13 Huskies. 

“Those are two huge plays,” head coach Tim Albin said. “I’d like to say it’s the biggest difference in the game but it wasn’t. It was offensively, the lack of production in the second half and the turnovers.” 

Northern Illinois extended that lead later in the quarter with a 31-yard field goal to make it a 17-13 game with just over two minutes left in the third. 

That score held and the Bobcats went into the final 15 minutes trailing by four, 17-13.

With Ohio’s offense stalling, Northern Illinois continued to put on the pressure. They put together a solid drive that landed them in field goal position. The Bobcats’ defense held strong to force another field goal, this one from 37 yards, 20-13 Huskies. 

On the ensuing Bobcat drive, Rourke tried to push the field vertically but his pass was intercepted by Northern Illinois and brought back well into Ohio territory. 

That turnover proved costly as the Huskies pushed it to a two score game with another field goal, 23-13.

Just two plays later, Rourke was hit as he threw and his pass fell in the hands of the Huskies again. Northern Illinois marched all the way down to the 11-yard line but came up short on fourth and one to keep Ohio’s slim hope alive. 

Disaster struck when Rourke was intercepted for the third straight possession on a deep attempt to wide receiver Miles Cross.

“I think we had one turnover against Bowling Green and Kent, we had three today,” Albin said. “This year, our turnovers, we are at the bottom of the league. We have to get that fixed.”

The Huskies gained possession and chewed up the clock to come away with the upset win over the Bobcats. Northern Illinois outscored Ohio 16-0 in the second half.

“Offensively, just the lack of a consistent running game,” Albin said when asked what the biggest difference was between the two halves. “We have to find a way to get consistency in the running game. … That’s probably our biggest concern right now.” 

Ohio looks to bounce back against Western Michigan on Oct. 21.