DeKALB – Talk of Northern Illinois going to another Bowl Championship Series game will survive for at least one more week.
So will the chances of a third straight Mid-American Conference championship with Wednesday’s impressive 48-27 win over Ball State at Huskie Stadium. No. 15 NIU (10-0, 6-0 MAC West) will clinch the MAC West Division with a win at Toledo on Wednesday.
The victory is NIU’s 25th consecutive at Huskie Stadium, and it’s the Huskies’ 23rd in a row in MAC play.
Both Ball State (9-2, 6-1) quarterback Keith Wenning and NIU’s Jordan Lynch shined on ESPN2. Wenning went 35 for 49 for 324 yards and a touchdown pass. Lynch was 26 of 32 for 325 yards and two touchdown passes, and ran for 123 yards and two scores.
“I said the same thing about [former NIU QB Chandler Harnish] a couple years ago ... I’m looking forward to [Lynch] getting his degree and moving on,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said.
NIU coach Rod Carey was pretty emphatic about Lynch being talked about for the Heisman Trophy.
“If Jordan isn’t in the conversation for the Heisman, I don’t know what people are watching. Obviously [they’re] asleep,” Carey said. “In my estimation, that trophy goes to the best player in the nation. With the performance he had tonight, and he had help, believe me, we had a lot of good plays out there from everybody.
“But from the performance he had tonight, he dang sure should be in that conversation.”
Da’Ron Brown’s 36-yard touchdown catch from Lynch with less than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter was the game-winning score. Brown’s touchdown reception came just a few minutes after after he committed the first turnover of the game, fumbling the ball at the Ball State 10-yard line after a 54-yard catch from Lynch, costing the Huskies a shot at another scoring opportunity.
One of the plays of the game came in the third quarter, with the Huskies facing a third-and-10 at their own 28-yard line. Lynch looked to be wrapped up by the Cardinals defense, but bounced off a few tacklers and ran for a first down.
NIU would go on to convert two fourth downs on the drive – the second being a Cameron Stingily 1-yard touchdown run to put NIU up, 27-24.The 85-yard drive featured 17 plays.
Ball State would tie the score, 27-27, on a Scott Secor 19-yard field goal.
Brown’s catch, a 16-yard run by Lynch, and a 49-yard interception return by Joe Windsor gave NIU 21 straight points to finish, helping the Huskies outscore Ball State 28-3 after halftime.
Late in the fourth quarter, with Ball State facing a fourth and 1 from the NIU 44-yard line, Cardinals tailback Jahwan Edwards was stuffed by Windsor for a 1-yard loss.
“The fourth quarter, we played really well,” Carey said, “and that was probably the play that jump-started the whole thing.”