Spurred on by an aggressive defense that recorded a school-record 11 quarterback sacks, including seven in the second-half, Northern Illinois scored the final 10 points of the game Saturday to claim a hard-fought 45-35 victory over Idaho in the Kibbie Dome.
After trailing 28-14 with 9:35 to play in the second quarter, Northern Illinois outscored the Vandals 31-7 the rest of the game to claim their second win of the season and improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2003.
NIU won its 10th consecutive road game and has won 23 of its last 25 games. Huskie quarterback Jordan Lynch and wide receiver Tommylee Lewis both went over the 100-yard mark in rushing as Lynch totaled 159 rushing yards on 23 carries with two touchdowns and Lewis ran four times for 104 yards.
Kicker Mathew Sims broke a 35-35 tie with a 51-yard field goal, tied for the fifth-longest in school history, to put NIU ahead 38-35 with 10:49 to play. The lead was just the second of the game for NIU.
After the Huskie defense forced a three and out, the Huskies got the ball back on their own 41-yard line with 9:02 on the clock. On the first play from scrimmage, Lewis ran for 29 yards to the Idaho 30, and gained the next nine yards on a pair of pass receptions from Lynch. Two Cameron Stingily runs netted eight yards before Lynch threw his third and final touchdown pass of the day with a 13-yard completion to Luke Eakes and a 45-35 Huskie lead that would hold up as the final.
“I’m really happy with the way they responded to all of the adversity,” said NIU head coach Rod Carey. “The fourth quarter is what we pride ourselves on. If it’s a fourth-quarter game, we have that belief that we are going to come through.
“You’ve got to love the win, take the win and be happy we got the win,” he said. “I’m proud of our kids and proud of the adjustments by our defensive coaches. We have a lot of things to work on in every phase, it was by no means a complete game.”
After surrendering 279 yards and 28 points to the Vandals in the first half, NIU allowed Idaho just one second-half touchdown and 159 yards. Seven of the Huskies’ school record 11 quarterback sacks came in the second half. On five Idaho possessions in the fourth quarter, the Vandals tallied just 53 yards. Four Huskie players – Joe Windsor, Rasheen Lemon, Perez Ford and Mario Jones – had two sacks each and seven NIU defenders recorded sacks on the day.
“All week we emphasized the pass rush,” said linebacker Jamaal Bass. “It was incredible to see those guys get after the quarterback every play. It shows you what the defense is capable of.”
Northern Illinois was penalized 11 times for 107 yards, fumbled twice, and had a punt blocked late in the game, but still won the turnover battle by recovering three Idaho fumbles and holding the Vandals to just four-of-16 on third-down conversions.
Idaho took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 10 plays to take the early 7-0 lead. James Baker scored on a one-yard run to cap off the drive, which featured a couple of costly 15-yard penalties by the Huskies.
Northern Illinois came up empty on its next drive, but the Huskie defense stepped up when Windsor stripped Idaho quarterback Josh McCain and Ken Bishop recovered to set NIU up at the Idaho 35. Lynch ran for 30 yards on the first snap and then scored his first rushing touchdown of the season on a five-yard run to tie the score at seven.
Following another exchange of punts, Idaho showed its big-play capabilities as Chad Chalich hit Richard Montgomery on a 27-yard pass play to give the Vandals a 14-7 lead with 3:45 to play in the first quarter.
The teams combined for four scores in the second quarter, beginning on the very first play when Idaho took a 21-7 lead when Chalich hit Baker from 37 yards out. The Huskies responded with a 74-yard drive in four plays with Keith Harris scoring on a 15-yard catch and run for NIU’s second touchdown.
The Vandals extended their lead to 14 points again as they used the running game to drive 75 yards on nine plays with Chalich picking up the final 34 yards on the ground for a 28-14 Idaho lead.
NIU immediately closed the gap to 28-21 on its next possession when Stingily powered in from two yards out to end a 14-play, 77-yard drive.
The Huskies scored on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter to earn their first lead. Lynch hit Da’Ron Brown from three yards out for the first score after a 29-yard pass play to Lewis earlier in the drive. He then scored himself on a 61-yard run that put him over the 100-yard mark in rushing for the 15th time in his career and first time in 2013.
Idaho, which fell to 0-3 with the loss, came back to tie the game early in the fourth quarter. The Vandals got the ball at the NIU36 after a Lynch fumble and five Baker rushes sandwiching a completion resulted in and Idaho score and a 35-35 game with 14:19 to play.
Lynch added 152 passing yards on 17-of-29 attempts with three passing touchdowns to his 159 rushing yards to tally 311 yards of total offense and five TDs responsible for.
“All the credit goes to Idaho,” Lynch said. “They played us tough, had a great game plan. We never really got in rhythm on offense. We still put up 45 points and I’m sitting here complaining, so there were some things that went right and we were able to find those and build on them.”
Northern Illinois plays its first home game of 2013 next Saturday, Sept. 21, at Huskie Stadium when Eastern Illinois comes to town for a 6 p.m. kickoff. Tickets to the game and to all NIU home games this season are on sale now.