Thor Long looked for an open receiver down the field when things suddenly opened up. That's when he tucked the ball under his right arm and took off running.
Eighty-five yards later, he was pushed out at the 1-yard line — and so were Central Oklahoma's chance of beating Northeastern State.
Long scored two plays on a 1-yard run, and the RiverHawks went on to beat President's Cup rival Central Oklahoma, 45-38, in front of 1,564 at Doc Wadley Stadium.
"I don't think I've broke a run like that since pee-wee," Long said of NSU's longest run of the year. "It was a blessing. It just opened up and the line did a great job blocking. It opened up and the dominoes fell into place."
Long finished with 90 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He also threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns as the RiverHawks closed out the year 2-9 overall and 2-8 in Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association.
"That was a huge team win," Long said. "The season didn't go like we thought it would, but it's a great way to end over our biggest rival."
Early on, it didn't appear as though the RiverHawks would have an answer for UCO running back Josh Birmingham. The senior running back from Luther torched NSU's defense for a 61-yard touchdown run to put the Bronchos (2-8, 2-8) up 7-0 with only four minutes and seven seconds off the clock to start the game.
That's when NSU took over.
Scoring 24 of the next 27 points, the RiverHawks ended up overtaking the Bronchos en route to a 24-10 halftime advantage.
It all started on Long's 1-yard pass to Nick Whitlow to tie the game up at 7 with 3:43 left in the first quarter.
On the next drive, Long went down with an injury and Cory Meadors was inserted at quarterback. Meadors promptly took the RiverHawks 74 yards down the field in 16 plays, capping off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Marco Renteria.
The RiverHawks would never trail again. And Long would return on the next drive after shaking off what he described as a knee injury.
Churning out 490 yards on offense, the RiverHawks were led by 140 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries by running back Terrance Dixon, whose 20-yard touchdown run with run with 11:36 left in the game gave NSU a 38-17 lead.
The Bronchos were able to cut NSU's lead to 38-31 with 6:03 to play on T.J. Eckert's 20-yard scoring pass to Sam Johnson. NSU, though, followed immediately with Long's career-long run.
Central Oklahoma, again, got within seven on Eckert's 4-yard pass to Christian Hood. But the Bronchos were unable to come up with the onside kick, which was recovered by NSU's Prince McJunkins.
The Bronchos outgained NSU with 551 yards on offense — 385 of which were by Eckert through the air. Birmingham, on 17 carries, added two touchdowns and 114 yards — which was 85 yards shy of tying the all-time record at UCO.
The Bronchos were doomed by five turnovers — all interceptions by Eckert.
"We don't have that kind of margin for error," UCO head coach Nick Bobeck said. "Anytime that you turn the ball over that many times, you're going to struggle to win football games."
On defense for NSU, Langston Jones — despite coming up eight tackles short of the single season tackle mark — went out with a bang. The senior linebacker had 15 tackles, one forced fumble and two interceptions, a career high.
"It's been a rough season against some rough competition, and nothing feels better than to win the last game, especially against your rival to get that President's Cup," Jones said. "That's how I wanted to finish this season, with this win."