Huskies end season with loss at Poinsettia Bowl

By Frank Gogola

No. 23 football (12-2, 8-1 MAC) suffered its second loss of the season – and second loss in a row – as it fell, 21-14, to the Utah State Aggies (9-5, 7-2 MW) in the 2013 San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Thursday at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif.

NIU outgained Utah St. 315-289 but was unable to convert a few long drives and short fields into points. The Huskies picked up 19 first downs to the Aggies’ 17, but they only moved the chains four times in the second half, three of them coming on one drive. Each team turned the ball over twice, but the Aggies converted their forced turnovers into 10 points while the Huskies didn’t make their forced turnovers visible on the scoreboard.

The Huskies failed to pick up a first down on their first drive, which started at their own 3-yard line. Junior punter/kicker Tyler Wedel’s punt netted only 17 yards, but the NIU defense held Utah St. to a 52-yard field goal attempt, which it missed wide left.

On NIU’s ensuing drive, redshirt senior quarterback Jordan Lynch fumbled the ball on the second play of the drive and Utah St. recovered the ball. The defense put together another stand and held the Aggies to a 31-yard field goal with 6:56 remaining in the first quarter.

The Huskies were poised to get on the board after falling behind 3-0. They drove 55 yards on 14 plays, but senior kicker Mathew Sims missed a field goal attempt wide right from 37 yards out.

On the Aggies’ second play after Sims’ missed field goal, senior running back Joey DeMartino rushed 58 yards up the middle to the NIU 20. However, the Huskie defense stood tall and held the Aggies to a 39-yard field goal by junior place kicker Nick Diaz, which tied the Poinsettia Bowl record for longest field goal set by Joey Bullen of Navy in 2007.

The Huskies got on the board and scored the final points of the first half as Lynch powered his way up the middle into the end zone from 1 yard out to cap off a 15-play, 78-yard drive with 8:17 remaining in the first half.

NIU had a chance to add points late in the half but opted to go for it on fourth-and-three from the USU 25. Lynch was stuffed trying to go up the middle, and Utah St. knelt the ball down to send the game to the half.

On the first play of the second half Lynch had a pass intended for Tommylee Lewis picked off by Brian Suite. Seven plays and 31 yards later true freshman Darell Garretson connected with sophomore wide receiver Brandon Swindall for a 5-yard touchdown pass that put the Aggies up 13-7.

The Huskies and Aggies then combined for three punts before senior safety Jimmie Ward, playing in his final game and school-record 55th game, picked off Garretson in the end zone after the Aggies reached the NIU 12.

The Huskies went three and out, but following a delay of game penalty sophomore upback Desroy Maxwell took the ball and rumbled 8 yards for the fourth-down conversion to end the third quarter; the Huskies were held to 16 total yards in the third quarter.

The Huskies didn’t get anything going after the converted fake punt and punted the ball back to the Aggies. Three plays later Garretson had a tipped pass intercepted by senior defensive tackle Ken Bishop at the USU 13.

The Huskies were set to retake the lead but were able to move the ball only 1 yard on three plays. They settled for a 29-yard field goal attempt from Sims, which he missed wide right; with his second miss of the game, Sims missed nine of his last 13 field goal attempts.

The Aggies proceeded to drive 80 yards on 16 plays and eat up 7:19, and DeMartino rushed for a 1-yard touchdown to cap the drive. Garretson connected with sophomore wide receiver Bruce Natson for the two-point conversion that put USU up 21-7 with 4:14 to play.

The Huskie offense came to life, and Lynch put together a 13-play, 57-yard drive that resulted in a 15-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Juwan Brescacin. Brescacin broke a tackle at the 5-yard line and dove into the end zone. The touchdown pass was Lynch’s 100th career touchdown.

The Huskies cut the deficit to 21-14 with the touchdown but failed to recover the ensuing onside kick. With no timeouts remaining for the Huskies, USU knelt the ball down three times for the victory.

In his final game as a Huskie, Lynch finished 20-35 for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he ran for 39 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries. Lynch finished his NIU career with a 24-4 record as a starting quarterback.

The Huskies have been to six consecutive bowl games and are now 2-4 during that span. Following the loss to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 6, the Huskies have now lost two games in row for the first time since Sept. 10, 2011, (at Kansas) and Sept. 17, 2011 (vs. Wisconsin).