The Northern Illinois defense made the stop it needed to make as freshman linebacker Boomer Mays tackled Army quarterback Trent Steelman for a two-yard loss on fourth and three with 1:47 to play, securing the Huskies’ 41-40 victory over the Black Knights Saturday at Michie Stadium.
Mays’ stop came after NIU took the lead with 4:29 in the game on an eight-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Lynch to Martel Moore. The touchdown pass was one of four on the day for Lynch, who threw for a career high 342 yards on 18-of-27 passing. Lynch added 125 rushing yards on 13 carries. His 467 yards of total offense is the third-highest total in NIU history.
“Obviously my hat goes off to Army,” said NIU Head Coach Dave Doeren. “They are very hard to beat in this stadium. Our guys overcame a lot. We found a way to win. Our guys kept battling and stayed in there. Jordan threw the ball extremely well and made a lot of plays. He and Martel got in a groove late.”
Moore finished with seven catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore Tommylee Lewis scored on a 69-yard touchdown as well as a 21-yard run on the end around. Northern Illinois improved to 2-1 with the win and won its road opener for the first time since 2007. Army fell to 0-2.
The final completion ended a 13-play, 72-yard drive that took 4:19 off the clock as NIU responded to Army’s final score.
The Northern Illinois defense struggled all day to stop a potent Army rushing attack as the Black Knights finished the game with 486 rushing yards on 86 carries and six touchdowns. Three players – Raymond Maples, Larry Dixon and Trent Steelman ran for more than 100 yards each as they tallied 159, 136 and 116 yards, respectively.
Army scored on the first possession of the game as the Black Knights drove 75 yards in 10 plays, all on the ground, with Raymond Maples scoring on a 22-yard run.
The Huskies answered with an eight-play, 70-yard drive. Lynch hit tight end Luke Eakes for a 38-yard pick-up on the drive, and then lofted a pass to 6-8 tight end Tim Semisch in the back of the end zone for NIU’s first score of the game.
NIU collected the next two touchdowns to take a 21-7 lead with 8:55 to play in the half. Lynch got a block on the edge and ran 88 yards to complete a four-play, 98-yard drive. After the Huskie defense stopped Army on fourth and seven on the NIU 38 yard line, Northern Illinois needed just three plays to score again as Lewis scored on the end-around.
After Army responded with the first of Dixon’s three TDs to close out a 10-play, 73-yard drive, NIU used its quick strike offense again with Lynch hitting Lewis for 69 yards and a 28-13 Huskie lead. Army put together a drive before halftime to close the gap to 28-19.
Army carried momentum from that late score into the second half, forcing NIU into a three and out on its first possession, then grinding out an eight-play, 68-yard drive for a score. Steelman scored on a 25-yard rush and the PAT narrowed the Huskies’ lead to 28-26.
NIU drove to the Army four yard line but when Jordan Lynch appeared to reach the ball over the goal line, it was called a fumble in the end zone and Army took over on the NIU 20.
Army took advantage, once again pounding out a 12-play, 80-yard drive exclusively on the ground. Dixon scored again and when Steelman’s two-point conversion attempt was true, the Huskies trailed 34-28.
NIU’s next drive was stopped when Lynch was intercepted, but the defense forced a punt and the Huskies responded. On third-and-10 from the Army 31, Lynch hit Moore over the top and after Sims’ PAT, NIU led 35-34.
“I’d like to see us get rid of the turnovers,” Doeren said. “Defensively, we made a lot of adjustments throughout the game. We were able to get a stop when we needed it. We kept preaching that we only needed one stop and we got it when we needed it most.”
After another Army punt, turnovers bit NIU again as Lynch fumbled on a handoff and Army recovered at the Huskie 15-yard line. One play later, Steelman ran in for the score and the Black Knights took a 40-35 lead.
Army ran 90 plays to the Huskies’ 53 and held the ball for 42:33 in the game while not committing a turnover. They completed just one pass for eight yards in the game. Northern Illinois committed three turnovers, but converted eight-of-nine third downs in the game.