MORRISSEY: Huskies seemed dead in water, but they rally to top Hawkeyes
September 1, 2013 1:16AM
12-4-2009 Photo of Rick Morrissey, new Chicago Sun-Times Sports columnist. Photo by Dom Najolia, Chicago Sun-Times
N. ILLINOIS 30, IOWA 27
N. Illinois 10 7 3 10 — 30
Iowa 7 17 0 3 — 27
NIU—FG Sims 47, 7:33.
NIU—Lewis 40 pass from Lynch (Sims kick), 3:47.
Iowa—Kirksey 52 fumble return (Meyer kick), :27.
Iowa—FG Meyer 28, 8:24.
Iowa—Fiedorowicz 11 pass from Rudock (Meyer kick), 6:32.
NIU—Lewis 21 pass from Lynch (Sims kick), 3:49.
Iowa—Rudock 6 run (Meyer kick), :53.
NIU—FG Sims 25, 1:13.
Iowa—FG Meyer 44, 6:42.
NIU—D.Brown 33 pass from Lynch (Sims kick), 5:05.
NIU—FG Sims 36, :04.
TEAM STATISTICS NIU Iowa
First downs 20 24
Rushes-yards 42-163 43-202
Passing 275 256
Comp-Att-Int 25-41-0 21-37-2
Return Yards 48 24
Punts-Avg. 8-42.6 7-36.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 1-1
Penalties-Yards 8-64 6-35
Time of Possession 29:20 30:40
RUSHING—N. Illinois, Lynch 22-56, Wedel 1-42, Stingily 12-42, Harris 5-30, Lewis 1-4, Team 1-(minus 11). Iowa, Weisman 20-100, Bullock 17-76, Rudock 4-20, Canzeri 2-6.
PASSING—N. Illinois, Lynch 25-41-0-275. Iowa, Rudock 21-37-2-256.
RECEIVING—N. Illinois, D.Brown 7-92, Lewis 5-82, Sebastiano 5-69, Brinlee 4-16, Brescacin 1-10, Turner 1-3, Maxwell 1-2, Eakes 1-1. Iowa, Martin-Manley 9-79, Cotton 2-58, Shumpert 2-40, Fiedorowicz 2-15, Hillyer 2-12, Powell 1-49, T.Smith 1-3, Bullock 1-0, McCarron 1-0.
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:48AM
IOWA CITY — Northern Illinois’ slogan for 2013 is “Finish the Fight,’’ but who was kidding whom Saturday? The Huskies were finished. They were done, overcooked, in danger of being burnt to a crisp.
They trailed Iowa by seven with 6:42 left, and although that might sound like a perfectly reasonable deficit for a team to overcome, the truth was that Northern’s offense had moved like oil sludge in the second half. There was no indication the final minutes would be any different. There might have been determination (fight), but there certainly wasn’t a passing attack (flight).
The Huskies pulled off a fake punt in the second half, gimmicking things up in the hopes of sparking the offense, but there was no fire in sight. Not even the motivation of last season’s bitter opening loss to the Hawkeyes seemed to spur them on.
And then . . . madness. NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who had done everything and more for the Huskies last season, hit a wide-open Da’Ron Brown in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown that tied the game.
Then, a few blinks later, here came NIU safety Jimmie Ward, out of nowhere. He picked off a Jake Rudock pass to give the Huskies the ball at the Iowa 30 with 1:17 left. Wait, the Huskies were going to win this game? After fighting and getting nowhere? Nah, couldn’t be.
Yes, it could.
Mathew Sims’ 36-yard field goal with four seconds left was the difference in a 30-27 Northern victory.
“Just another kick,’’ Sims said. “Just another win for our team.’’
I think this kid has been injecting ice water into his veins. He needs to be tested.
“Our guys just believe,’’ coach Rod Carey said. “And they have a belief that if it gets in that situation, we’re going to make the plays. We did [Saturday]. And that belief saw us through some tough times.’’
It’s hard to believe, but Lynch’s first start for Northern came against Iowa in last season’s opener, an 18-17 heartbreaker at Soldier Field. By the time the season was over, he had collected almost 5,000 yards of total offense, 44 touchdowns and 12 straight victories before the loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl.
But if you thought this game was going to be a snap for him because of last season’s huge success, you were very much mistaken.
“It’s tough playing here at Kinnick Stadium, 70,000 fans cheering against you and being down by seven in the fourth quarter,’’ Lynch said. “It’s not easy.’’
It’s not as if the Hawkeyes are a great team or perhaps even a good team. They’re picked by many to finish last in their Big Ten division. But this was a huge step for NIU, on the road against a team from a power conference. It’s not farfetched to say that the only way the Huskies make a BCS bowl again this season is if they go undefeated. There is little room for error here. They needed to beat Iowa, they need to win at Purdue on Sept. 28 and they need to run the Mid-American Conference to have a chance to do something special again.
“You [media members] can talk about the significance of it and all those things,’’ Carey said. “I’ll leave that up to you. You guys are way better at it than I am. I know this: We’re 1-0.’’
Coaches are way better at saying they’re 1-0 than I am.
The Huskies opened with a 10-0 lead and had every reason to believe that this was going to be everything last year’s game wasn’t. They recovered a fumble on Iowa’s second drive, which led to a field goal, then took advantage of a bad holding penalty against a Hawkeyes defender on third-and-17. It led to a 40-yard Lynch touchdown pass to a wide-open Tommylee Lewis.
Everything that Northern wanted to happen did.
Great teams take advantage of that sort of benevolence. The Huskies gave back. Iowa’s Christian Kirksey relieved Northern tight end Luke Eakes of the ball and ran back the fumble 52 yards for the score.
The Huskies also got beat on a 53-yard flea-flicker, which, it can’t be emphasized enough, can’t happen. Before long, the 10-0 lead was a 17-10 Iowa lead.
It looked grim. But then, craziness ensued.
“We’re putting the program on the map,’’ Lynch said afterward.
It’s already there, but maybe the lettering is a little bolder now.