Back to Detroit: Huskies take MAC West


Junior running back Cameron Stingily (42) stiff arms the Toledo defense during Wednesday night’s game.  NIU won, 35-17, taking the MAC West title. It will head to the MAC Championship game for the fourth season in a row.

By Frank Gogola

No. 16 football (11-0, 7-0 MAC) is heading to the MAC Championship game for a fourth consecutive season.

The Huskies captured their fourth straight MAC West title as they defeated the Toledo Rockets (7-4, 5-2 MAC) Wednesday at the Glass Bowl in Toledo, Ohio. They used a second-half surge to down the Rockets 35-17 and increase their conference winning streak to 24 games and their road winning streak to 15 games.

The Huskies, who failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities for most of the first half, came out firing on offense in the second half.

“That was a hard-fought game. That’s a good team in Toledo,” said head coach Rod Carey. “We just kind of farted around a little in the first half, and we didn’t finish drives the way we needed to, and we got it going in the second half.”

NIU drove 85 yards on the opening drive of the second half, highighted by a 27-yard bubble screen catch-and-run from Jacob Brinlee and a 32-yard reception by Juwan Brescacin. Jordan Lynch capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run, his first of three rushing touchdowns, to put the Huskies up 14-10.

Toledo retook the lead on the next possession as Terrance Owens found Bernard Reedy on a 36-yard touchdown toss on a post route.

Lynch drove the Huskies 65 yards down the field and found a running lane to the end zone from 31 yards out that put NIU up for good.

The Huskies forced a Toledo punt but were pinned at their own 1-yard line. Lynch marched the Huskies on a 15-play, 99-yard drive that included four third-down conversions. Lynch finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown dive that put the Huskies up 28-17 with 9:42 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“When you get pinned down and you flip the field and get points, it’s a momentum thing,” Carey said. “But the field position thing just completely changes.”

The Huskies put any hope of a Toledo comeback to rest by pitching a three-and-out on the Rockets’ ensuing drive. For good measure, they added style points as they drove nine plays, 77 yards down the field for their fifth touchdown of the game, all of which came on the ground.

James Spencer punched the ball in from 1 yard out, which sealed the game, 35-17; Paris Logan added an interception in the end zone on the Rockets’ final offensive play.

Spencer also rushed for touchdown in the first half that put the Huskies up 7-0. His touchdown run, from 19 yards out, came three plays after George Rainey recorded a strip-sack of Owens and recovered the fumble on the first play.

The teams traded punts before senior saftey Jimmie Ward tipped a pass to himself and intercepted it.

“If you want to be a great team, your seniors gotta play like seniors,” Carey said. “They are right now, and Jimmie [Ward] is leading the way on that side of the ball. We got other guys playing too, but he’s doing a great job.”

The Huskies were not able to convert the turnover into points as Mathew Sims missed his first of three field goals, this one wide left from 23 yards out.

The Rockets got on the board as Jeremiah Detmer nailed a 36-yard field goal with 50 seconds to play in the first quarter. Toledo was on its way to take its first lead after driving down to the 1-yard line on a 16-play drive, but linebacker Boomer Mays picked off a jump pass by wildcat quarterback Kareem Hunt in the end zone on a on third-and-goal.

The Huskies failed to add any points as Sims missed wide right from 40 yards out. The Rockets took the momentum from a second missed field goal and took their first lead as Owens found a wide-open Alonzo Russell down the right sideline for a 45-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining in the first half.

After a few quick passes, NIU was set to tie the game 10-10 at the half. Sims, who came into the game 13-of-17 on field goal attempts this season, missed his third field goal of the half, this time from 47 yards out.

The Huskies entered the half trailing for the fourth time this season and the second game in a row. They had outscored their opponents 65-13 in the second half of those first three games and outscored the Rockets 28-7 to close out the game.

NIU finished with 566 total yards of offense, converted 10 of 15 third downs and forced four turnovers — one fumble and three interceptions.