Toledo rocked as NIU earns third straight MAC West crown
With a Mid-American Conference football championship berth on the line, the Northern Illinois University Huskies overcame a 14-7 halftime deficit to defeat the Toledo Rockets 31-24 at Brigham Field Wednesday night.
Aided by 21 points off of four turnovers, the Huskies clinched their third-straight MAC West title and a spot at the Nov. 30 MAC title game at Detroit’s Ford Field.
Dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch posted Heisman Trophy numbers with 569 yards of total offense, rushing for his ninth consecutive 100-yard game (162 yards on 30 carries) while throwing for 407 yards (25-36-1) and three touchdowns to spark the second half comeback.
“I think anytime you can share sustained success, that’s the measure of a great program,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren.
“When you go there, then you’re absent for a while, then you go back – that’s good, but to be a great program, you have to have sustained success. This program, for the last decade, is the winningest program in the conference … That’s what you want as a football program. To do it, at the same time with the academic success and the facilities, there are a lot of great things going on here right now.”
On the first offensive play of the second half, Martel Moore caught a Lynch pass at the 28 yard line, broke three tackles and scampered 72 yards to the end zone for a 73-yard score to tie the game at 14.
Toledo threatened to take the lead once again, but Rashaan Melvin intercepted a Terrance Owens pass at the goal line to thwart the Rocket attack, and NIU drove 99 yards the other way to take its first lead of the night as Lynch connected with Perez Ashfordfor his third touchdown from six yards out.
Akeem Daniels capped a seven-play, 97-yard drive with a six-yard scoring scamper to make the score 28-14 late in the third quarter. The score was set up by an interception by Tyrone Clark at the NIU three-yard line.
A 43-yard field goal from junior kicker Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo./Hannibal) early in the fourth quarter helped increase the NIU advantage to 31-14.
“They were packing it in quite a bit, so we thought we could get outside on the screen package that we run,” Doeren said of adjustments in the second half. “Let the perimeter guys make some plays, and they did. We thought our tempo could get them tired, and it did. I think we had 340 yards in third quarter; that’s pretty crazy, but we did.”
Cassius McDowell scored a five-yard TD run with just over 10 minutes to play, and Jeremiah Detmer converted a 34-yard field goal with 5:57 to play to pull the Rockets to 31-24.
Moore led all receivers with seven receptions for 153 yards and two touchdowns, averaging nearly 22 yards per catch.
With the win, NIU extends its Huskie Stadium winning streak to 21 games and its winning streak over MAC foes to 15 games; both are the longest in the nation. Playing in their final game at Huskie Stadium, the NIU senior class earned its 39th victory, extending its record as the winningest class in school history.
The Rockets took a 7-0 lead on its opening 72-yard, 12-play drive, scoring on a one-yard rush by David Fluellen, the nation’s leading rusher. Fluellen was held to just 79 yards on 22 carries by a staunch Huskie defense.
NIU evened the score in the second quarter, taking advantage of a five-yard Jimmie Ward interception return to the Toledo 34 as Lynch capped the nine-play drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to Martel Moore.
Toledo regained a seven-point lead with 3:38 left in the first half by driving 83 yards on seven plays and scoring on a one-yard keeper by quarterback Terrance Owens.