Final drive proved football can dig deep

By Frank Gogola

With less than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game, NIU was trailing the Iowa Hawkeyes (0-1) by seven points and it appeared all hope was lost.

The Huskies refused to fold in the raucous environment of Kinnick Stadium and posted 10 unanswered points in the final 5:05 minutes of the game. Redshirt senior quarterback Jordan Lynch hooked up with redshirt junior wide receiver Da’Ron Brown to tie the game at 27-27, and senior kicker Mathew Sims hoisted the Huskies to a 30-27 victory with a game-winning field goal.

“Offensively, Iowa was getting after us and we had to find some ways to make some plays another way and we did,” said head coach Rod Carey in a news release. “They had Jordan [Lynch] bottled up most of the game, and he came through with some big throws in the fourth quarter. Iowa is a good football team; we made the plays at the end of the game. We knew going in we were going to have to find a way to make plays and we did. This is a good win over a good Big Ten opponent.”

The Huskies fell into a 27-20 hole with 6:42 remaining after the Hawkeyes nailed a 44-yard field goal. The Huskies’ offense came to life after being stalled nearly the entire second half after junior wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, who finished his day with five receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns, went down with an undisclosed injury on the Huskies’ first drive of the second half and did not return. Out of nowhere, Lynch led the Huskies on a six-play, 75-yard drive, starting with a 27-yard completion to Angelo Sebastiano, redshirt sophomore wide receiver, and finishing with a 33-yards strike to Brown to tie things up with 5:05 remaining.

“The whole offense realized that they had to step up and make plays [after Lewis went down],” Brown said. “In the receiver room, we’ve got a motto of being your brother’s keeper, so when he went down, I felt like we had to continue to play for him, you know? Keep the drives going, because when he was in, we were making plays and the offense was rolling. So we didn’t want to let him down or the team down.”

After the teams traded punts, senior strong safety Jimmie Ward made the play of the day, intercepting a Jake Rudock pass at the 50-yard line with 1:24 left on the clock, returning it to the 30-yard line. After a few rushes by redshirt junior running back Cameron Stingily to gain a few yards, center the ball between the hash marks and run the clock down, senior kicker Mathew Sims nailed a 36-yard field goal with 0:04 remaining, giving the Huskies a 30-27 victory and finishing his day a perfect 3-of-3 on field goals.

“Jimmie Ward, I’m so proud of him. He made that play [the interception] with a cast on one hand. That was a great play,” Carey said in a news release. “Our defense…what a great performance by them. They just bent, bent, bent but they never broke. They never gave up on each other.”

The victory was the Huskies’ first season-opening victory on the road since 1983, and it was their first victory over the Hawkeyes in nine games. The Huskies are off this weekend and then travel to Moscow, Idaho, to square off with the Idaho Vandals (0-1) on Sept. 14.