TOLEDO, Ohio — Facing a 99-yard mission in the fourth quarter, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch drove the Huskies out of dangerous territory in more ways than one.
After a first half of missed field goals and missed opportunities Wednesday night, the pessimist would have found it fitting Wednesday night for the Huskies to flit away a chance to secure a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game. But, if nothing else, they have proven to be an opportunistic team supplying optimism.
And Lynch proved again in the Huskies’ 35-17 victory at Toledo why it’s foolish to doubt him.
“Honestly, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “It does suck being backed up 99 yards. But just looking at all that open space and (playing) on ESPN2 and just showing the world and nation what we can do. If I could have talked to (the media) before that drive, I would have told you we would score.”
The No. 16 Huskies (11-0, 7-0) will return to Detroit for the conference title game for a fourth-straight season. And perhaps of more importance to Huskies fans, they kept their hopes for a BCS bowl bid alive.
“I know we’re going back,” said a Gatorade-doused NIU coach Rod Carey of their conference championship berth with their fourth straight MAC West title.
Lynch capped the critical fourth-quarter drive when he dived into the end zone from 1 yard out. It was his third rushing touchdown of the night after being shut out of the end zone in the first half.
In what has become standard procedure, he finished the game with 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries, and he connected on 17 of 22 passes for 202 yards.
But the Huskies needed to shake off a 10-7 halftime deficit.
The Rockets (7-4, 5-2) bounded into halftime after NIU kicker Mathew Sims missed his third field goal of the first half with only five seconds remaining. He missed on field goals from 23 (his first this season from inside the 40-yard line), 40 and 47 yards.
Carey said he would have gone back to Sims later in the game if needed.
“Sims has made a ton of big kicks around here,” he said. “I have total confidence in him.”
The missed field goals negated two of three first half turnovers the Huskies generated before the crowd of 21,974 at the Glass Bowl.
Lynch snapped the Huskies back, rushing for two third-quarter touchdowns from 12 and 31 yards out.
The Huskies started the fourth quarter from their own 1 after the Rockets punted from the NIU 35-yard line. They completed four third downs on the drive before Lynch scored.