Second-half magic isn’t anything new to Northern Illinois.
The Huskies were undefeated in nine contests after a Week 1 loss to Iowa, but the winning streak was far from flawless. NIU trailed at halftime in wins over Western Michigan and Ball State, and were forced to make fourth-quarter comebacks in wins against Kansas and Army.
And after a sub-par first half left NIU in a 14-7 hole Wednesday, the Huskies, once again, needed another second-half rally.
“The way we came out in the third quarter … we opened up throwing a little screen to Martel and that was a heck of a play he made,” NIU coach Dave Doeren said. “That was big time. That sparked us right there and things just kind of took off.”
NIU’s up-tempo offense ran as fluid in the third quarter as it has all season. Coming out of halftime, Lynch completed his first nine pass attempts, two of which went for touchdowns.
For all of the praise heaped on Lynch over the past two months – every word of it well-deserved – his resiliency and poise have often been overlooked.
Gaudy stats and consistent highlight-reel plays, of which Lynch had his fair share Wednesday, will do that.
At Army, Lynch led back-to-back fourth-quarter touchdown drives, putting NIU ahead each time. In his first collegiate start against Iowa, Lynch followed an early-second-half fumble of his with a long touchdown run on NIU’s next possession.
“If we don’t have the two turnovers it might have been the best game of his, of any quarterback’s life around here,” Doeren said of Lynch’s school-record 569 yards of offense. “I thought he played his butt off and I knew he would.”
The 73-yard scamper against Iowa was Huskie fans’ first glimpse at the type of plays the do-everything junior quarterback could make. Even the most optimistic of NIU supporters couldn’t have imagined that loss at Soldier Field would lead into the school’s longest-winning streak since NIU joined college football’s top division.
But Lynch and the offense were joined in the comeback effort by a defense that was much maligned after giving up 60 points to Toledo at the Glass Bowl in 2011. They more than made up for last year’s performance by forcing four turnovers and holding Toledo running back David Fluellen to less than four yards per carry.
“Last year ... the defense didn’t really play too well,” said cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who had one of three NIU interceptions. “This year we showed them the defense is for real. One of the best defenses in the MAC.”
After Wednesday’s victory over Toledo, the Huskies’ third consecutive berth in the MAC Championship has already been secured. The only unknown being NIU’s future opponent.
The trip to Ford Field is a late-season bus ride the Huskies are becoming very familiar with. And even with one more regular season game against Eastern Michigan still on the schedule Nov. 23, NIU can hop on the bus in two weeks, no further second-half magic required.
• Ross Jacobson is the sports editor of the Daily Chronicle. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.