The kick gave NIU its first win over the Hawkeyes in nine tries, and it came in comeback fashion as Northern Illinois trailed throughout much of the second half, and faced a 27-20 deficit to start the fourth quarter.
NIU head coach Rod Carey, who earned his first career win, said it took all three phases of the game to get the victory. “It was a total team win and that’s what we preach,” he said. “I give our guys and our coaching staff credit on this. Our guys just believe. They have a belief that if it gets in that situation we are going to make the plays and we did today. That belief saw us through some tough times.”
Sims’ field goal, the third game-winner of his career, came after senior safety Jimmie Ward intercepted Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock on the 50-yard line with 1:24 to play and the game tied 27-27. Ward, who was playing with a cast on his left hand, returned the ball to the 30-yard line. From there, a pair of runs by Cameron Stingily took the ball to the 19 and after a timeout, Sims was true on his third field goal of the game.
“Jimmie Ward, I’m so proud of him. He made that play with a cast on one hand. That was a great play,” Carey said. “Our defense … what a great performance by them. They just bent, bent, bent but they never broke. They never gave up on each other. ”
The NIU defense gave up just 156 yards in the second half and held Iowa to one 44-yard field goal. That field goal by Mike Meyer, gave Iowa a 27-20 lead with 6:42 to play.
However, NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who had been bottled up on the ground by the Iowa defense all day, went to the air. He engineered a six-play, 75-yard drive that took just 1:37, hitting Angelo Sebastiano for 27 yards to start the drive. After a six-yard toss to Jacob Brinlee and two passes to Da’Ron Brown to the Iowa 33-yard line, Lynch found Brown in the corner of the end zone for Lynch’s third touchdown pass of the day. With 5:05 to play, the game was tied 27-27.
Brown caught five passes for 92 yards to lead NIU, while Sebastiano added five catches for 69 yards and Tommylee Lewis had five grabs for 82 yards. All of the Huskie touchdowns were scored by wide receivers.
Iowa got the ball back and advanced to the Huskie 48-yard line but was forced to punt and after NIU went three and out from its 18-yard line and punted, Ward’s heroics on Iowa’s first play gave the Huskies another chance.
“Offensively, Iowa was getting after us and we had to find some ways to make some plays another way and we did,” Carey said. “They had Jordan bottled up most of the game, and he came through with the big throws in the fourth quarter. Iowa is a good football team; we made the plays at the end of the game. We knew going in we were going to have to find a way to make plays and we did. This is a good win over a good Big Ten opponent.”
Northern Illinois scored the first 10 points of the game as Sims opened the scoring with a 47-yard field goal at the 7:33 mark in the first quarter, and Lynch then hit Tommylee Lewis with the first of his two touchdown passes on the day. The Riviera Beach, Fla. speedster ran past the defender and was wide open for a 40-yard score.
Iowa came back with a defensive touchdown as Christian Kirksey picked up a Huskie fumble and brought it back 52 yards for their first score of the season. At the end of the first quarter, Northern Illinois led 10-7.
Iowa put 17 points on the board in the second quarter, beginning with a 28-yard field goal by Meyer that tied the game. After NIU was forced to punt, the Hawkeyes used a 53-yard pass on a flea-flicker from Rudock to Jordan Cotton to the NIU 12. From there, Rudock hit tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz from 11 yards out for Iowa’s first lead of the game, 17-10.
The Huskies tied it at on their next drive when Lynch hit Lewis from 21 yards out, but Iowa responded again and went into halftime with a 24-17 lead.
The teams traded punts most of the second half with the only scoring a 25-yard field goal by Sims that was set up by a 42-yard run by NIU’s Tyler Wedel on a fake punt.
Northern Illinois is open next week before traveling to Idaho for a Sept. 14 match-up with the Vandals.