DeKALB — The mistakes decreased and the offense production increased for Ross Bowers and the NIU football team.
It may have taken a half of football, but Bowers found the comfort he needed to throw from the pocket in NIU's 24-10 victory over Illinois State.
“We stopped really shooting ourselves in the foot," Bowers said. "The protection really in the second half was fantastic. That was really a big difference for me. Just felt a lot more comfortable.”
The Huskies overcame a sloppy start by converting on explosive plays in the second half.
Bowers threw for 299 yards through the air, with 102 going to Tyrice Richie by way of three receptions. Two of them went for touchdowns after a mistake-ridden first half.
Daniel Crawford added 75 receiving yards on three receptions, including a 45-yard reception of which most of the yards came after the catch. Fellow tight ends Mitchell Brinkman (four receptions for 51 yards) and Max Thrower (one reception).
Tre Harbison added 99 rushing yards on the ground for the sake of balance.
“Just getting the rust off, that felt really good," Bowers said. "To get some early completions, get some bigger plays going, the run game was really popping, so that was just making my job so much easier.”
Bowers completed 6 of 8 passes for 89 yards on the touchdown drive that culminated in Richie's 22-yard score for a 10-3 Huskies lead late in the third quarter.
Hammock said he saw the types playmaking abilities that Richie demonstrated Saturday evening since sprng pratice.
“It started to click for him what we needed out of him, what we expected out of him and he responded by making big plays in critical situations in practice," Hammock said. "Obviously I think people can start to see what he can do on the field as ell.”
After a less-than-inspiring first half from both teams, Bowers recovered by picking apart the Redbirds' defense for a score before adding another on the second drive on a Richie catch-and-run that went 68 yards to paydirt.
Even after a first-half tipped interception, the Huskie went back to the air, showcasing the faith the staff had in Bowers to perform through the air.
“We trust our players. Nobody panicked … we’re going to throw the ball," Hammock said. "He made a good throw, and Tyrice made a good catch-and-run. It’s a good combination that they did. We trust our players. When we had the tipped pick, we came out the next drive and threw the ball. We’re not going to play scared.”
Hammock said he had settled on Bowers as the quarterback about 10 days ago and that after the shaky start, he saw Bowers look more comfortable.
“We wanted him to have confidence," Hammock said. "What I saw was a quarterback that gained confidence as the game went on. There was some things early. He was holding the ball a little bit, but then he got more comfortable. He got in rhythm.”
For Illinois State coach Brock Spack, whose Redbirds program hasn't played NIU since 2000, he'd be happy to see this matchup happen frequently.
“It was a lot of fun. I wish we could play this game more often," Spack said.