ATLANTA — Rocky Lombardi’s 2-point pass to Tyrice Richie with 38 seconds remaining lifted Northern Illinois to a stunning 22-21 upset win over Georgia Tech on Saturday night.
Georgia Tech of the Atlantic Coast Conference was favored by 18 1/2 points over Northern Illinois, of the Mid-American Conference.
Northern Illinois led 14-0 but had a regroup after backup quarterback Jordan Yates, playing after Jeff Sims suffered an arm injury, rallied the Yellow Jackets with three unanswered touchdowns.
Lombardi, the Michigan State transfer, was given one final possession with 2:42 remaining. He made his debut for Northern Illinois (1-0) one to remember by directing the go-ahead drive that started with a 38-yard completion to Richie.
Lombardi’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Clint Ratkovich cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 21-20. Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock made a quick decision to play for the win with a 2-point play instead of attempting a tying kick.
“Easy decision,” Hammock said. “We came here to win and we expected to win and that’s what we got done.”
On the 2-point play, Lombardi rolled right before passing to Richie, whose leaping catch had to be reviewed. He landed with his hands outstretched and the ball took a small bounce as he hit the field. The replay indicated he kept his left hand under the ball, preventing the ball from hitting the field.
Gavin Stewart’s last-second, 60-yard field goal attempt for Georgia Tech (0-1) was blocked. The block triggered a celebration by North Illinois players, who bounced onto the field from the sideline.
Yates’ 4-yard touchdown run with 6:32 remaining gave the Yellow Jackets their first lead at 21-14.
Sims left the game in the second quarter with a left arm injury. His left arm was in a sling as he was out of uniform and watched on the sideline in the second half.
Waylee fumbled when hit by Wesley Walker in the fourth quarter and Quez Jackson recovered to set up Georgia Tech’s go-ahead touchdown.
Lombardi threw a 5-yard scoring pass to tight end Miles Joiner in the second quarter to push the Northern Illinois lead to 14-0.
Sims struggled with his passing, completing 3 of 7 attempts for 21 yards. Sims overthrew an open Nate McCollum for a possible touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Northern Illinois linebacker Lance Deveaux Jr. picked up a Jordan Mason fumble and ran into the end zone for an apparent touchdown and 20-0 lead. A long review led to the touchdown call on the field being overturned because Mason’s knee was down before he lost the ball.
The reversal opened the way for Yates to lead a 16-play, 97-yard drive. Yates gained first downs on three third-down runs of nine yards or longer before completing the 22-yard pass to Kyric McGowan. It was Yates’ first career touchdown pass.
The Yellow Jackets were stopped at the Northern Illinois 2 early in the second half when a video review determined McGowan’s left foot was out of bounds on a 2-yard catch initially ruled a touchdown.
Dontae Smith’s 15-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the game tied the score with 7:44 remaining. Yates’ 53-yard pass to Malachi Carter set up the score.
Northern Illinois safety Devin Lafayette had a brace placed on his left leg following a collision with a teammate late in the first half. Lafayette’s teammates knelt near him as an ambulance was driven onto the field and he was placed on a stretcher.
Northern Illinois: Lombardi’s experience showed as he directed the Huskies’ run-first offense led by Waylee, who had a 35-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Huskies leaned on their physical offensive line, which more than held its own.
Georgia Tech: Coach Geoff Collins appeared to allow fans to influence a key decision when North Illinois led 14-7. He sent his offense back on the field for a fourth-and-goal play at the Northern Illinois 2 after fans booed when kicker Brent Cimaglia, who missed two field goal attempts in the first half, came onto the field. Collins used his second timeout to reconsider his plan, setting up a failed fourth-down play when McGowan was ruled out of bounds.
Northern Illinois: The Huskies will play Wyoming in their home opener next Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Kennesaw State, which opened with a 35-25 win over NAIA school Reinhardt University on Thursday, visits the Yellow Jackets next Saturday.