Iowa scored its only touchdown of the game on a 23-yard run by Damon Bullock with 2:15 to play, lifting the Hawkeyes to an 18-17 victory over Northern Illinois Saturday in front of a crowd of 52,117 at Soldier Field.
Northern Illinois used the running of first-time starting quarterback Jordan Lynch and a stifling defensive effort to build a 17-9 lead with 9:43 to play in the third quarter.
Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel) finished with 119 yards on 18 carries, and the NIU defense came up with six sacks for 57 yards, but the Huskies fell just short of extending its nine-game win streak.
“I’m proud of our team and how hard they played,” said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. “I’m disappointed for our guys. They played well today in a lot of facets. Iowa has a good defense; they played better than we did in the second half. Jordan didn’t flinch. There are a ton of plays he’s going to be mad about. We had a lot invested in this game and the loss is tough. They played hard, they played really hard.”
Lynch went 6-of-16 through the air for 54 yards, connecting with senior wide receiver Martel Moore (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren) three times for 39 yards. Junior defensive end Joe Windsor (Kearney, Mo./Kearney) collected two of NIU’s six sacks for 19 yards.
The Huskie defense held Iowa to 268 yards; a year ago, NIU only held one opponent to 268 yards of total offense or less (vs. Kent State, Oct. 8, 2011).
“We’re going to go back and look at the tape, and figure out a way to make one more play,” said NIU defensive end Sean Progar. “If we make one more play today, we win this game.”
Trailing by five, 17-12, Iowa pinned the Huskies back on their own 1-yard line on a John Wienke punt. On the ensuing possession, the Huskies failed to gain any yardage, forcing redshirt senior Ryan Neir (Roscoe, Ill./Hononegah) to punt the ball back to Iowa from the back of his own end zone.
Neir’s punt was returned by Micah Hyde 11 yards to the NIU 24 with 3:41 remaining.
After picking up just one yard on the first two plays of the drive, Damon Bullock found a hole off left-tackle and raced to the end zone to give the Hawkeyes their only lead of the game.
Bullock finished the contest with a game-high 150 yards on 30 carries. His 23-yard touchdown run was his longest of the afternoon.
Iowa opened the scoring in the first quarter with a 34-yard field goal from Mike Meyer on the opening drive of the game. The Hawkeye drive covered 14 plays and 58 yards before stalling in Huskie territory, something that would become a theme throughout the contest.
The Huskies drove into Hawkeye territory and were knocking on the door of the end zone as the first quarter came to a close. On the final play of the quarter, Lynch picked up seven yards on third-and-four, giving the Huskies a first-and-goal at the Iowa seven.
With his first collegiate carry on the first play of the second quarter, freshman running back Keith Harris Jr. (Chicago, Ill./Leo) cut to his left and just got into the end zone for the score as NIU took a 7-3 lead.
Iowa trimmed the NIU lead to one, 7-6, on a 29-yard field goal by Meyer with 4:23 to play in the second quarter as the Hawkeyes drove to the NIU 11-yard line but had to settle for three points.
Meyer finished the day four-of-five on field goal attempts.
The Huskies responded with a field goal of their own on the following drive as junior Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo./Hannibal) split the uprights from 28 yards to give NIU a 10-6 lead heading into the intermission.
The Hawkeyes forced the first, and only, turnover of the contest on the opening drive of the second half as Lynch fumbled and Carl Davis recovered for Iowa on the NIU 14.
Iowa had first-and-goal from the Huskie three but was again turned back by the NIU defense, forcing a 22-yard Meyer field goal to trim the Northern Illinois advantage to 10-9.
Lynch and the Huskies answered right away. After a pair of runs combined to pick up two yards, Lynch went 73 yards up the middle for a score, giving the Huskies a 17-9 lead. The redshirt junior slipped through one arm-tackle in the Iowa secondary and then ran away from the Hawkeyes to give NIU an eight-point advantage, a lead they would take into the fourth quarter.
On its first drive of the fourth quarter, Iowa again found itself in Huskie territory, reaching the 26-yard line before redshirt junior Sean Evans (Ft. Walton Beach, Fla./Ft. Walton Beach) came up with a sack to push the Hawkeyes back 10 yards and help stall the Iowa drive. Meyer came on again and connected from 50 yards, his longest field goal of the day, cutting the Hawkeye deficit to 17-12.
The ensuing Huskie drive ended with a punt and Iowa drove back to the NIU 42-yard line before Wienke’s punt was downed at the NIU 1-yard line, setting up the game’s final moments.
Northern Illinois will return to action at Huskie Stadium next Saturday, Sept. 8, when the Huskies host Tennessee-Martin at 6 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN3.