NIU beats Ball State to keep streaks, BCS hopes alive
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media November 13, 2013 10:50PM
Northern Illinois wide receiver Da'Ron Brown catches a 36 yard touchdown pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Ball State on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in DeKalb, Ill. Northern Illinois won 48-27. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Updated: November 14, 2013 12:23AM
DeKALB — For the longest time, Northern Illinois was living dangerously Wednesday night.
Before a national-TV audience — the first of the Huskies’ three consecutive games on ESPN2 — NIU had its hands full against Ball State.
Never mind that the Huskies are No. 20 in the Associated Press poll, No. 21 in the coaches’ poll and No. 15 in the BCS standings.
On a frigid November night at Huskie Stadium, the Cardinals were not intimidated.
Then NIU showed why it’s in the hunt for a second consecutive BCS bowl.
The Huskies wound up with a 48-27 victory, outscoring Ball State 28-3 in the second half. But it wasn’t nearly as easy as the score indicates.
NIU (10-0, 6-0 Mid-American) went ahead to stay 34-27 with 5:49 left on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Lynch to Da’Ron Brown. That capped a seven-play, 94-yard drive.
‘‘We pride ourselves on fourth quarters,’’ Lynch said. ‘‘That’s something we work on in practice, finishing those drives. Anytime you’re on national TV, in the national spotlight, you have to play your best.’’
After the Huskies’ defense came up with a big fourth-down stop with 3:47 left, Lynch, a senior from Mount Carmel, added a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:26 left. Then Joe Windsor returned an interception 49 yards for a final touchdown with 49 seconds left.
‘‘I still think the best is yet to come for me and this team,’’ Lynch said. ‘‘It was a great victory tonight.’’
Lynch rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 26 of 32 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns.
‘‘If Jordan isn’t in the conversation for the Heisman, I don’t know what people are watching,’’ NIU coach Rod Carey said. ‘‘That trophy goes to the best player in the nation. From the performance he had tonight, he dang sure should be in that conversation.’’
Brown caught eight passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. Besides the game-winner, he caught a 58-yard touchdown pass with 1:13 left in the first half when the Huskies were trailing 21-13.
Piling up 280 yards while punting once, Ball State led 24-20 at halftime. The Cardinals (9-2, 6-1) were locked in a 27-27 tie with six minutes left. But it quickly fell apart.
‘‘Obviously, [Lynch] is a great player,’’ Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. ‘‘He’s very fast. He’s built like a linebacker, but he has tailback speed. He has a lot of savvy, too. I’m looking forward to him moving on.’’
Lynch, who seems to be barred from the Heisman Trophy discussion because he doesn’t play in a major conference, doesn’t get as worked up about it as his coach.
With the victory, the Huskies extended their home winning streak to 25 games, the longest in the nation. They also extended their MAC winning streak to 23 games, the nation’s best conference run.
With a trip to Toledo (7-3, 5-1) coming up next Wednesday, this two-game stretch figures to determine whether the Huskies can come up with a second consecutive magical season.