SALT LAKE CITY – With a would-be tackler staring him down at the goal line, Ross Bowers let his instincts take over.
Bowers kept the ball on a quarterback run and charged toward the end zone. He launched before the other player could make contact, somersaulted over the top of him, and landed in a ball inside the end zone. Seeing it unfold made Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock sweat a little bit more than simply from feeling the desert heat at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"No need to do that,” Hammock said. “I was hoping he left it at Cal. But we'll take the touchdown."
No one else from the Huskies' sideline would argue with the results. It gave Northern Illinois its first touchdown of the game and delivered a highlight reel play that symbolizes the impact Bowers has on the field.
Bowers totaled 229 yards and a touchdown on 20 of 29 passing in the Huskies' 35-17 loss to Utah on Saturday. The senior did most of his damage before halftime, catching the Utes' defense off guard throughout the first and second quarter.
He connected with Spencer Tears on a 74-yard grab to give Northern Illinois its second touchdown. Bowers also hit Daniel Crawford for a 37-yard gain to set up John Richardson's career-long 46 yard field goal late in the second quarter.
“I really just stuck to my rules and the game plan,” Bowers said. “We were fortunate enough to execute in the first half. I just couldn’t get it done in the second half for us.”
A turning point for Bowers and the Huskies came on the final first half drive that ended in Richardson's field goal. Bradlee Anae sacked Bowers for a seven-yard loss on third down after Northern Illinois had driven down to the Utah 21.
It set the stage for a second half where Bowers felt all sorts of pressure and could not withstand it as the game progressed. The fourth-quarter interception stood out as the biggest killer in his mind, but he also felt like he didn't get the ball to the receivers with the speed and accuracy he showed in the first half.
“I was just holding the ball a little bit too long, which caused some sacks,” Bowers said. “That really hurt us there too.”
Bowers gives hope that the sting won't last long for Northern Illinois. He has totaled 528 yards and three touchdowns through two games while completing 64.5 percent of his passes in that stretch.
With Bowers at the controls, the Huskies have produced back-to-back 100-yard games from receivers to open the 2019 season. They produced just a single 100-yard game during the entire season a year ago.