SAN DIEGO — Northern Illinois had the record-setting Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and has piled up bowl appearances along with victories in recent seasons but none of that mattered Thursday night during a sloppy 21-14 loss to Utah State in the Poinsettia Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium.
Jordan Lynch, who finished third in the Heisman voting, capped his NIU career in disappointing fashion, completing 20 of 35 passes for 216 yards and rushing for 39 yards on 18 carries. He ran for one score and passed for another late, but fumbled once, threw a third quarter interception that set up a Utah State’s go-ahead score and generally looked nothing like the player who dominated opponents so often the last two seasons.
“We had our chances to make some plays, to score some points,” said Lynch, who also had a pair of turnovers in the 47-27 loss to Bowling Green in the MAC title game. “We were in the red zone three times and did not come away with points. Points were there, we did not capitalize.”
The Huskies (12-2) averaged 41.6 points per game this season but their 14 Thursday night were by far a season low. The previous low mark came in the loss to Bowling Green, which prevented the Huskies from making a second straight BCS bowl game appearance.
The Huskies, who had hoped to finish with a program-best 13th victory, struggled in other areas as well.
Punter Tyler Wedel shanked his first attempt of the night for 17 yards, kicker Mathew Sims missed field goal attempts of 37 and 29 yards, offensive linemen struggled to handle a swarming Utah State defense — consistently getting beaten on blocks — and coach Rod Carey’s decision to go for it on a fourth-and-3 late in the first half backfired when Lynch was stuffed short of the first down.
Defensively, the Huskies struggled to get off blocks and allowed several momentum-swinging runs when Utah State runners shook off initial contact. The defense had a similar problem in the Bowling Green loss.
NIU’s best chance to take control came and went early in the fourth quarter after an a tipped-pass interception by defensive tackle Ken Bishop gave Lynch and the offense a first-and-10 from the Utah State 13 with the Aggies up 13-7.
However, three plays — a 1-yard Aregeros Turner run and two Lynch incompletions — set up Sims for his missed 29-yarder. Utah State then put together its best drive: a 17-play, 80-yard clock-eating masterpiece of power and precision that took 7 minutes, 19 seconds and ended with a Joey DeMartino touchdown run.
DeMartino finished with 144 yards on 23 carries. The defensive player of the game was Utah State safety Brian Suite, who finished with 11 total tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception. NIU senior safety Jimmie Ward, who will appear in the Senior Bowl, finished with six tackles and an interception to lead the Huskie defense.
Lynch sparked hopes for a miracle come-from-behind victory when he connected with Juwan Brescacin for a 15-yard touchdown with 1:44 left but Utah State recovered an onside kick attempt and ran out the clock.
“This was bad end to a great season,” Carey said. “This senior class has a lot of be proud of. The winningest class in school history. We just didn’t play as well as we wanted to at the of the season.”
Extra points: NIU wide receiver Da’Ron Brown, who was held back by a bad hamstring leading up to the game, played and finished with four receptions for 63 yards. … NIU is now 4-5 in bowl games.