Lombardi, Northern Illinois beat Arkansas State 21-19 in the Camellia Bowl


Arkansas State coach lays into ref after offside call seals loss

Arkansas State coach Butch Jones is red-hot after an offside penalty is called on an onside kick in the fourth quarter.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- — Rocky Lombardi ended his seven-year college career with a win in which he made big plays and then was a spectator on the two that ultimately sealed the game.

Lombardi passed and ran for a touchdown and Northern Illinois held on for a 21-19 victory over Arkansas State in the Camellia Bowl on Saturday when the Red Wolves couldn't convert a late 2-point conversion. A penalty on the following onside kick helped preserve the Huskies' first bowl win in nearly 11 years.

“It means a lot to go out as a winner,” Lombardi said. “We've done a lot more winning than losing here.”

Antario Brown ran for 132 yards for the Huskies (7-6), who won six of their final eight games. Neither team scored in the second half until Jaylen Raynor's 13-yard touchdown pass with 1:14 left to Corey Rucker, who broke a tackle at about the 6. Raynor's potential tying pass sailed out of the end zone on the 2-point attempt.

Arkansas State (6-7) couldn't convert the onside kick, getting called for offsides after coming up with the ball on the first of two attempts to prompt a heated protest from coach Butch Jones. It was called against his son, Adam Jones.

Asked what explanation officials provided for the call, Butch Jones said: “There was none.”

“That call didn’t cost us the game,” he said. “There were a lot of plays on our half that we could have done and we wouldn’t have been in that situation. But what you look for in an officiating crew is command of the moment.

“When they're looking at you and they can’t tell you what happened. as a coach that’s very disturbing. I try to stand there to make sure we’re onsides. We talk about that all the time."

The 25-year-old Lombardi completed his seventh and final college season by going 18 of 29 for 200 yards despite a pair of interceptions. He spent four years at Michigan State and three at Northern Illinois, receiving a medical redshirt last season.

Grayson Barnes had 105 yards and a score on five catches. Brown ran 25 times.

Arkansas State's Raynor, the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year, matched his older counterpart. Raynor was 16-of-30 passing for 250 yards with a pair of TDs and an interception. Rucker had five catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

The game was a matchup of two of the seven teams that made bowls after winning three or fewer games in 2022.

It was the Huskies' first bowl win since beating Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in January 2012.

The Huskies executed a fake field goal to perfection for a 21-7 lead in the second quarter. Holder Tom Foley flipped the ball to kicker Kanon Woodill, who darted up the middle 32 yards into a wide open field for Northern Illinois’s first fake field goal touchdown in 11 years.

“We felt like it was a great opportunity to get the first down and then when they overloaded, I said this has got a chance to be a touchdown as long as Kanon doesn't trip over his own feet," Northern Illinois coach Thomas Hammock said. "Probably his only touchdown in his life.

“That actually was probably the game-winning play.”


Arkansas State finished with a losing record but doubled last season's win total.

Northern Illinois wasn't successful on every gamble, opening with a failed 2-point attempt and failing on an onside kick. But the Huskies held onto the ball for more than 40 minutes.


Lombardi was asked if he knew Woodill had that kind of speed. “I knew he was fast enough to outrun nobody,” the quarterback quipped.


Arkansas State is trying to keep building under Jones, an ex-Tennessee coach. The Red Wolves open next season Aug. 31 against Central Arkansas. “I love where we’re going,” Jones said.

Northern Illinois must replace Lombardi at quarterback. It opens 2024 against Western Illinois on Aug. 31.


AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football