TOLEDO, Ohio – Northern Illinois will head to Detroit for the fourth consecutive year.
With Wednesday’s 35-17 win over Toledo at the Glass Bowl, the Huskies clinched the Mid-American Conference West Division for the fourth straight season. No matter what happens against Western Michigan on Tuesday night, the two-time defending MAC champion Huskies will play for another conference title Dec. 6 at Ford Field.
NIU scored on its first possession of the game, when tailback James Spencer ran for a 19-yard touchdown run. However, the Huskies failed to take a double-digit lead when Mathew Sims missed a 23-yard field goal attempt later in the quarter.
The No. 16 Huskies (11-0, 7-0 MAC) overcame three first-half missed field goals by the normally reliable Sims to come home with the victory.
The Toledo offense shot itself in the foot early on, with turnovers on two of its first four possessions. On the Rockets’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Terrance Owens fumbled the ball, which was recovered by NIU defensive end George Rainey. Later on, Owens was picked off by NIU safety Jimmie Ward at the Huskies’ 22-yard line.
In the second quarter, the Rockets (7-4, 5-2 MAC) commited their third turnover of the first half when tailback Kareem Hunt, on third-and-goal from the NIU 2-yard line, took a snap out of the Wildcat formation and threw a pass, which was intercepted by Huskies linebacker Boomer Mays.
However, Toledo took a 10-7 lead into halftime on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Owens to wideout Alonzo Russell, who was wide open down the right sideline.
NIU rallied for a 14-10 lead on its first possession of the third quarter with a 12-yard touchdown run by Jordan Lynch, who ran for three touchdowns on the night, all in the second half. But the Rockets answered on a 36-yard touchdown pass from Owens to Bernard Reedy.
On the ensuing possession, NIU took advantage of Toledo kicker Jeremiah Detmer’s out-of-bounds kickoff and drove 60 yards for a score, capped off by a 31-yard touchdown run by Lynch as the Huskies entered the fourth with a 21-17 advantage.
Lynch did it again to start the fourth, leading his offense on a 99-yard drive after a Toledo punt. The drive was capped off by his third rushing touchdown of the game, as Lynch scored from a yard out.
NIU ended the scoring 4 minutes later with a 1-yard run by Spencer, his second touchdown of the game, to cap a 77-yard drive.
Star of the game: Jordan Lynch, NIU, 202 passing yards, 161 rushing yards, 3 TDs
Key performers: Cameron Stingily, NIU, 146 rush yards; James Spencer, NIU, 2 rushing TDs; Terrance Owens, Toledo, 235 passing yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
Up next: W. Michigan at NIU, 7 p.m. Tuesday