In a white-knuckle, back-and-forth, hold-your-breath and don’t-dare-turn-your-eyes kind of football game, it was Jordan Lynch and the No. 15 NIU Huskies who finally prevailed, winning 48-27 over Ball State.
Tied heading into the fourth quarter, the NIU Huskies scored the final 21 points of the game for the Wednesday night victory at Huskie Stadium.
Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel) went 26-of-32 passing for 345 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 123 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns as the Huskies moved to 10-0 on the season, 6-0 in conference play.
With the victory, NIU extends its Huskie Stadium winning streak to 25 games and its Mid-American Conference winning streak to 23 games, Ball State falls to 9-2, 6-1 in league play.
“We have a lot of respect for Ball State,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey. “They are well-coached, they are a good team and it took all four quarters to beat them. I was real pleased with how all three phases of our team came together. We held them to three points in the second half, I think that was a big key to it, and we made some key plays along the way.”
Tied at 27 midway through the fourth quarter, the Huskies took the lead courtesy of a 7-play, 94-yard drive. Starting on its own six, a 24-yard rush by Lynch got the Huskies out from the shadow of their own end zone.
Three plays later, Lynch scrambled before finding Matt Williams (Geneva, Ill./Geneva) for 25 yards before a 36-yard connection with junior receiver Da’Ron Brown (Chicago, Ill./Morgan Park) put the Huskies in front, 34-27, with 5:49 to play.
Brown finished the game with eight catches for a career-best 209 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The junior rebounded after dropping what looked to be a sure touchdown pass in the first quarter.
“So proud of Da’Ron,” Carey said. “We told him after that play that we were going to need him. He stayed with it and made a huge catch.”
On the Cardinals next possession, the Huskie defense, which allowed Ball State only three points in the second half, came up with its biggest stop of the night. On fourth and one at the NIU 44-yard line, senior safety Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson) and senior defensive end Joe Windsor (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) tackled Cardinal running back Jahwan Edwards for a one-yard loss.
Getting the ball back with just 3:47 to play, the Huskies used four-straight running plays to reach the Ball State 25. Following an eight-yard pass from Lynch to Tommylee Lewis (Riviera Beach, Fla./W.T. Dwyer) and a one-yard run by Cameron Stingily (Romeoville, Ill./Romeoville), NIU found the end zone again on a 16-yard rush by Lynch, giving the Huskies a 41-27 lead with just 1:26 left.
Lewis finished with a team-high 12 catches for 71 yards.
After the game, Carey was definitive in his praise of Lynch.
“If he’s not in the conversation for the Heisman, I don’t know who should be,” Carey said. “That’s a good team we just beat and the plays he made on the third-down scramble and the pass. As good a football player as he is, he’s a better person and a better leader.”
NIU put the game on ice 40 seconds later as Windsor intercepted a Keith Wenning pass and returned it 49 yards, just getting inside the pylon for another Huskie touchdown. The interception was the only turnover of the night for the Cardinals.
The Huskies and Cardinals traded punts on the opening two possessions of the contest before points were scored on the next eight.
NIU opened the scoring with a 34-yard field goal by senior Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo./Hannibal), but the Cardinals answered with a 12-play, 72-yard drive, capped by a Wenning to Willie Snead three-yard touchdown pass.
The Huskies responded with a 78-yard drive as Lynch put NIU back on top with a two-yard touchdown run. The NIU signal-caller went five-of-six on the drive for 63 yards, including a pair of key third-down conversions.
Edwards carried six times for 51 yards on the following drive to help the Cardinals retake the lead, 14-10, with 10:08 to play in the second quarter. Wenning capped the drive with a quarterback sneak from a yard out as the Cardinals regained a four-point edge.
Edwards finished the contest with 156 rushing yards on 29 carries.
After moving down to the Ball State two-yard line, NIU had to settle for a 20-yard Sims field goal, cutting the Ball State lead to just one, 14-13, with five minutes left before the half.
Wenning and the Cardinals then took their largest lead of the half with a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Wenning was five-of-six passing on the drive for 65 yards, including an 18-yard connection with Zane Fakes to put the Cardinals on the NIU five. On the next play, Edwards scored from five yards out, giving Ball State a 21-13 lead.
Junior fullback Rob Sterling (Lansing, Ill./T.F. South) returned the ensuing kickoff 20 yards and NIU needed just one play to cut the Ball State lead back to just a point. Lynch hooked up with Brown for 58 yards as the Huskies trimmed the Cardinal lead to 21-20 with 1:13 left in the first half.
A 26-yard field goal from Scott Secor gave Ball State a four-point lead, 24-20, that the Cardinals would take to the intermission.
After forcing a Ball State punt on the first drive of the second half, NIU marched 85 yards in 17 plays to take a 27-24 lead. Lynch picked up six yards on a fourth-and-one near midfield to keep the drive alive and Stingily finished the drive with a touchdown run from a yard out to put the Huskies back in front midway through the third quarter.
Ball State evened the game, 27-27, on a 19-yard field goal by Secor. The Cardinals moved down to the NIU 1-yard line, but the Huskies kept the Cardinals out of the end zone, forcing the field goal that tied the game with 3:07 to play in the third quarter.
NIU will return to action next Wednesday, Nov. 20, when the Huskies travel to Toledo. Game time against the Rockets is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT and will be televised live on ESPN2.