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updated: 8/31/2013 10:44 PM

NIU pays back Iowa with comeback

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  • Northern Illinois wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (10) celebrates with teammates quarterback Jordan Lynch, right, and offensive lineman Andrew Ness, left, after catching a 40-yard touchdown pass.

      Northern Illinois wide receiver Tommylee Lewis (10) celebrates with teammates quarterback Jordan Lynch, right, and offensive lineman Andrew Ness, left, after catching a 40-yard touchdown pass.
    Associated Press

  • Northern Illinois wide receiver Da'Ron Brown catches a 33-yard touchdown pass over Iowa defensive back B.J. Lowery (19) during the second half .

      Northern Illinois wide receiver Da'Ron Brown catches a 33-yard touchdown pass over Iowa defensive back B.J. Lowery (19) during the second half .
    Associated Press

  • Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey celebrates with quarterback Jordan Lynch after their 30-27 victory over Iowa.

      Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey celebrates with quarterback Jordan Lynch after their 30-27 victory over Iowa.
    Associated Press

  • Video: NIU's Carey on beating Iowa

 
 

When last we saw the NIU Huskies, they were busting the BCS and facing Florida State in the Orange Bowl, only to get busted up in the second half.

It was nevertheless the most remarkable season in NIU history and to think it all began with a heartbreaking, 1-point loss to Iowa at Soldier Field in the season opener.

It was a game the Huskies should have won and they knew it all too well.

So with expectations at an all-time high coming into this season, combined with a Heisman campaign for the brilliant Jordan Lynch, the pressure on the Huskies was enormous Saturday and a victory in Iowa City essential to getting this season off on the right foot.

Turns out it was the right foot of Mathew Sims.

The Huskies' place-kicker booted home a 36-yarder with five ticks left on the clock, capping an amazing NIU comeback and a 30-27 victory in Kinnick Stadium.

"Our guys just believe," said NIU coach Rod Carey, who picked up his first win. "They have a belief that if it gets in that situation we are going to make the plays and we did today. That belief saw us through some tough times."

Somewhere, Kirk Herbstreit must be absolutely miserable. He chuckled about the Huskies -- as he often does -- on ESPN's pregame show Saturday morning, but this was a quality win for NIU against a Big Ten team and probably the best front seven the Huskies will face all season.

Against a tough Iowa defense, Lynch started slow and was outplayed in the first half by Iowa redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock -- making his first start -- and it looked bad for NIU when one of Lynch's top weapons, Tommylee Lewis, sprained his ankle on the first play of the second half and didn't return.

Lewis had 5 catches for 82 yards and 2 TDs in the first half, but NIU trailed 24-17 going into the break and the Huskies -- particularly Lynch -- were having trouble finding running room.

"They did some things to us today that really slowed us down," Carey said. "It was really hard sledding."

Lynch hadn't looked like much of a Heisman candidate -- or the Lynch of 2012 -- and NIU was still down 27-20 with 6:42 remaining in the game when Lynch had his best series of the day.

Starting on the NIU 25 and having to overcome a holding penalty, Lynch went 5-for-5 for 87 yards, the big strike a 33-yard touchdown pass when Lynch, on third-and-9, found Da'Ron Brown streaking down the right side.

With the game tied at 27-27 and only 1:24 left, defensive back Jimmie Ward jumped the route at midfield, picked off Rudock and returned it 20 yards. After 2 Cameron Stingily rushes for 11 yards, all the Huskies needed was a short field goal and Sims nailed it for the victory and NIU's first win ever over Iowa.

It's a fabulous start for NIU, not just because of the strength of victory, but also the comeback on a day when Lynch struggled to run the football (22 carries, 56 yards) and the Huskies looked all but buried several times.

But Lynch rebounded to throw for 275 yards and 3 TDs after losing his best receiver and running back to graduation, and while missing two of his best offensive players, including senior running back Akeem Daniels.

He was hounded by the Iowa defense all day, but when Lynch needed to make big plays in the fourth quarter, he made big plays.

On top of that, the NIU defense had a difficult time with the Hawkeyes' running game, which ran for 202 yards, but in the final period when NIU needed stops, Iowa's last 7 carries netted only 26 yards.

"What a great performance by (the defense)," Carey said. "They just bent, bent, bent, but they never broke. They never gave up on each other."

Last year, NIU was in the Iowa backfield all day, but Saturday the Huskies didn't sniff a sack or tackle for loss, and it was obvious they missed the 18 sacks that departed with Alan Baxter and Sean Progar.

Still, they collected 3 turnovers, converted on fourth down twice and ran a fake punt that worked to perfection. Mostly, they found a way to win, something they did 12 consecutive times after the loss to Iowa a year ago.

Whether they can find that kind of magic again remains to be seen, especially with four of the first five games on the road.

But as openers go, the Huskies are off to a heck of a start.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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