Junior quarterback Jordan Lynch (Chicago, Ill./Mt. Carmel) set a new NIU record for total offense with 569 yards (407 passing, 162 rushing) as Northern Illinois clinched the Mid-American Conference West Division Championship with a 31-24 victory over Toledo on Wednesday night at Huskie Stadium.
With the win, NIU improves to 10-1 overall, 7-0 in the MAC, extends its Huskie Stadium winning streak to 21 games and its winning streak over MAC foes to 15 games; both are the longest in the nation. Playing in their final game at Huskie Stadium, the NIU senior class earned its 39th victory, extending its record as the winningest class in school history.
"I think anytime you can share sustained success, that's the measure of a great program," said NIU head coach Dave Doeren. "When you go there, then you're absent for a while, then you go back – that's good, but to be a great program, you have to have sustained success. This program, for the last decade, is the winningest program in the conference … That's what you want as a football program. To do it, at the same time with the academic success and the facilities, there are a lot of great things going on here right now."
Trailing by seven at halftime, the Huskies took control with a 21-point third quarter, led by big plays from the Huskie senior class.
"They were packing it in quite a bit, so we thought we could get outside on the screen package that we run," Doeren said of adjustments in the second half. "Let the perimeter guys make some plays, and they did. We thought our tempo could get them tired, and it did. I think we had 340 yards in third quarter; that's pretty crazy, but we did."
It took NIU just one play into the third to even the contest. Lynch connected with senior wide receiver Martel Moore (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren) for 73 yards to tie the game, 14-14. Moore caught a short pass from Lynch, put his hand on the ground to keep his balance and then raced away from the Rocket defenders to give the Huskies a quick score.
Moore finished the game with seven catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns as he moved into second place on NIU's career list for receiving yards.
Toledo (8-3, 5-2 MAC) looked as though it would regain the lead until senior cornerback Rashaan Melvin (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan) made a diving interception at the 1-yard line to keep the Rockets out of the end zone. After the Toledo receiver slipped on his cut, Melvin laid out to make a spectacular catch for the turnover.
It took NIU just 2:43 to go 99 yards and take its first lead of the night. Lynch connected with senior wide receiver Perez Ashford (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Shaker Heights) for completions of 12 and 33 to get the Huskies out from the shadow of their own end zone. Lynch was 7-for-7 on the drive, capped by a six-yard touchdown pass to Ashford, giving the Huskies a 21-14 lead.
With Toledo inside NIU territory, Rocket quarterback Terrance Owens threw a deep pass toward David Fluellen that was intercepted by senior linebacker Tyrone Clark (St. Louis, Mo./Mehlville) at the three-yard line.
Facing a long field again, the Huskies needed just 1:41 to go 97 yards and take a 14-point lead. A 46-yard pass from Lynch to sophomore tight end Luke Eakes (St. Marys, Kan./St. Marys) helped setup the Huskies inside the Toledo 10 and junior running back Akeem Daniels (Kissimmee, Fla./Osceloa) capped the drive with a touchdown from six yards out to take a 28-14 lead.
Lynch finished the third quarter 13-of-15 passing for 296 yards with two touchdowns.
A 43-yard field goal from junior kicker Mathew Sims (Hannibal, Mo./Hannibal) early in the fourth quarter helped increase the NIU advantage to 31-14.
Toledo answered with 10 points on a five-yard touchdown run by Cassius McDowell and a 34-yard field goal by Jeremiah Detmer, bringing the Rockets within seven with 5:57 to play.
The Huskies picked up three first downs on the ensuing drive and were able to run out the clock.
Toledo marched 72 yards in 12 plays on the opening drive of the game to take an early 7-0 lead. Owens was 5-of-6 through the air for 54 yards on the drive and Fluellen capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give the Rockets a seven-point lead.
Owens finished the night 22-of-32 passing for 265 yards. Fluellen led the Rockets in rushing with 79 yards on 22 carries.
After an exchange of punts, NIU drove to the Toledo seven-yard line, but Lynch fumbled and the Rockets recovered to stop the Huskie scoring threat.
On Toledo's first drive of the second quarter, junior defensive back Jimmie Ward (Mobile, Ala./Davidson) stepped in front of an Owens pass, returning the interception five yards to the Toledo 34.
The Huskies took advantage of the short field to even the game, 7-7. Lynch hit Moore over the shoulder from five yards out to tie the game. Lynch picked up a key fourth down conversion rushing in the drive and found junior wide receiver Jamison Wells (Combined Locks, Wis./Kimberly) for 12 yards on a third-and-eight to help keep the drive alive.
Toledo regained its seven-point lead with a touchdown less than three minutes later. Owens scored from 1-yard out to cap a 7-play, 83-yard drive as the Rockets took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
The Huskies will conclude the regular season on Friday, Nov. 23, with a trip to Ypsilanti, Mich., to face Eastern Michigan. Tonight's victory ensures that NIU will make its third-straight appearance in the MAC Championship game on Friday, Nov. 30, at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.
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