Junior tailback Akeem Daniels scored on a 54-yard pass from Jordan Lynch with 4:58 to play, and Lynch added a 71-yard touchdown run two minutes later as the Northern Illinois Huskies overcame a fourth-quarter deficit for the third time this season to claim a 35-23 victory over Ball State Saturday at Scheumann Stadium.
“We’re a good fourth-quarter team,” said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. “I think we do a good job of wearing guys down and I’m really proud of the resiliency of our football team. Road wins say a lot about our coaching staff and our players. When they are down, there is no flinch.”
Lynch ran for a career-high 207 rushing yards on 29 carries with three rushing touchdowns, and threw for 195 yards and a score on 16-of-23 passing to account for 402 yards of total offense in the win. NIU improved to 5-1 overall while continuing its best start since 2003 and is now 2-0 in the Mid-American Conference. Ball State fell to 3-3 and is 1-2 in the MAC.
“He (Lynch) is a great player, I think everyone knows that now,” Doeren said. “He’s running the offense really well and making big plays.”
After falling behind 23-14 on Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning’s one-yard run with 12:24 to play in the third quarter, NIU scored the last 21 points of the game. Lynch scored on a 12-yard run to close out a five-play, 61-yard drive in just 1:01 at 8:46 of the third quarter to pull the Huskies within two at 23-21.
Late in the third quarter, Ball State’s Steven Schott missed a 34-yard field goal and NIU remained just two down entering the final period. Lynch was stopped on fourth-and-one and Ball State had another opportunity to extend its lead. The Cardinals’ drive stalled at the Huskie 16 and Schott missed from 33 yards.
NIU’s next drive ended when Tommylee Lewis‘ fumble was recovered by Ball State at the BSU 25.
A Cardinals’ punt returned the ball to Northern Illinois with 6:25 to play and on second-and-seven from the Ball State 46, Lynch hit Daniels with a short pass in the right flat and the junior went 54 yards for the score. Mathew Sims’ extra point gave the Huskies a 28-23 lead.
The Huskie defense forced a three-and-out and NIU regained possession on its own 26-yard line with 3:58 to play. NIU faced third-and-seven at its 29 with 3:11 to play when Lynch burst through the middle, broke a tackle and raced to the end zone.
“I thought (0ffensive coordinator) Rod Carey called some key plays. (The pass to) Akeem was a big-time call. Jordan threw a great ball and obviously Akeem finished the play. The (71-yard) quarterback draw was a great effort by Jordan.”
Ball State made a final comeback attempt, driving to the Northern Illinois six-yard line before the NIU defense forced four straight incompletions.
Wenning threw a Ball State school record 71 passes and completed 42. NIU’s Jimmie Ward and Michael Santacaterina recorded interceptions and the Huskies knocked down six passes. Northern Illinois held the Cardinals to field goals from inside the red zone twice
“Our word for the week was perseverance and I don’t think I could have picked a better word for the team,” Doeren said. “I thought the defense had a ton of huge stops today. We hit [Wenning] a lot and forced some bad throws.”
Northern Illinois jumped out to a 14-3 lead on Lynch’s first touchdown – a 29-yard run on fourth and two – and a one-yard run by Leighton Settle to close out a five-play, 57-yard drive. Settle’s score came at 14:03 of the second quarter.
From there, Ball State reeled off 20 straight points from the 9:22 mark of the second quarter through the 12:24 mark of the third period, to take a 23-14 lead.
NIU has won 14 of its last 15 games, including 10 straight versus Mid-American Conference foes.
Northern Illinois plays its lone October home game Saturday, Oct. 13, when Buffalo visits Huskie Stadium for Homecoming. The game kicks off at 2:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet Chicago. For more information on NIU football and Huskie athletics, visit www.niuhuskies.com.