DEKALB, Ill. — Northern Illinois coaches and players have been reluctant when it comes to celebrations this season.
Week after week, the Huskies have linked together the necessary parts for a repeat BCS bowl game run without much fanfare, even falling in the polls.
With special patriotic uniforms, an appearance on ESPN2 and a potential MAC championship game appearance on the line, Northern Illinois had reason to enjoy the spotlight Wednesday night against Ball State.
And enjoy it they did. The No. 15 Huskies (10-0, 6-0) defeated Ball State 48-27 to stand alone as the only undefeated team in the West Division and can continue to eye another program-enriching postseason in a BCS bowl.
Jordan Lynch tossed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Da’Ron Brown with 5 minutes, 49 seconds to play to put NIU up 34-27, then locked things up with a 16-yard sprint to paydirt with 1:26 left.
Joe Windsor added an exclamation point with a 49-yard interception return.
Lynch ran for 123 yards on 20 carries with two touchdowns and completed 26 of 32 passes for 345 yards and two more scores.
Brown had 209 receiving yards.
Entering the fourth quarter tied 27-27, the game had lived up to the hype.
Quarterbacks Lynch and Keith Wenning of Ball State were worth the trip for the seven NFL scouts who watched them perform.
Lynch boosted his Heisman Trophy resume on an 85-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter that helped the Huskies regain the lead.
He shook off a Ball State defender like a WWE wrestler on third-and-10 deep in NIU territory and rushed for 6 yards on fourth-and-1. Running back Cameron Stingily, used sparingly because of turf toe, punched it in from a yard out on another fourth-down for a 27-24 lead.
Wenning, meanwhile, entered the game fourth nationally in passing yards, but it was Ball State running back Jahawn Edwards the Huskies struggled to contain.
After beating their last three opponents by an average of 34.7 points, the Huskies were right to sense Wednesday night would bring a challenge.
They trailed 24-20 at halftime, the first time they fell behind after two quarters since the second game at Idaho.
The Huskies hadn’t trailed at all since the first quarter of the Central Michigan game Oct. 19.
While the game will be remembered for its efficient offenses, both teams had plays they would have liked to take back before halftime.
The Cardinals opted for an onside kick after going up 14-10 in the second quarter, but the Huskies recovered and drove for a 20-yard field goal.
In the final minute of the half, Huskies coach Rod Carey called two timeouts in an unsuccessful attempt to ice Ball State kicker Scott Secor, who nailed a 43-yarder. The Huskies had no timeouts remaining in a final drive before halftime, and Mathew Sims missed a 52-yard field goal.