IOWA CITY, IA – Beating any Big Ten team on the road is a big accomplishment.
Time and time again, Northern Illinois has came up short, including last season's one-point loss to Iowa at Soldier Field.
The Huskies came out on top Saturday, when Mathew Sims' 36-yard field goal gave the Huskies a 30-27 victory over the Hawkeyes (0-1) at Kinnick Stadium. Quarterback Jordan Lynch led the way with 275 yards passing and three touchdowns.
But even after a huge season-opening win, NIU (1-0) head coach Rod Carey found little significance in coming out on top.
“It means we’re 1-0,” he said. “All we’ve got in our sights is Idaho. We’re going to enjoy this for 24 hours ... and then after that, the page is turned.”
NIU came out sharp and jumped to a 10-0 lead, but Iowa was quick to match it. Hawkeye linebacker Christian Kirksey forced a Luke Eakes fumble and returned it 48 yards for the score, and his team built off that momentum to go into the locker room up 24-17.
The second half saw Iowa begin to shut down the NIU offense, and it didn’t help when wide receiver Tommylee Lewis, who had caught two touchdowns, left the game with an ankle injury. It was a big loss, but one that the players wouldn’t let deter them.
“The whole offense realized that they had to step up and make plays,” said wide receiver Da’Ron Brown, who had 92 yards on the day. “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.”
Knowing they would have to take some chances to get back in the game, the Huskies did just that. On a 4th-and-5, they faked a punt and pitched to speedy punter Tyler Wedel, who took it 42 yards down the right sideline to set up a field goal.
“We had to find a way to make a play,” Carey said. “They hemmed us up on offense, and we had to do something to get going.”
Iowa hit a field goal to make it 27-20 with under seven minutes remaining, but Lynch marched his team down the field and hit Brown for a 33-yard game-tying touchdown.
Both teams struggled to moved the ball as the clock ran down, and with a minute and a half remaining, the Hawkeyes began a drive they hoped would win the game. But on the first play, NIU safety Jimmie Ward picked off a Jake Rudock pass toward the sideline and gave his team a chance to steal the victory.
The Huskies ran the clock down, and Mathew Sims coolly knocked it through the uprights. When the clock ran out, the stadium stood almost completely silent. Almost, except for the jubilant players and a small contingent of red-clad fans.
While Carey and his players continually tried to shy away from putting the win’s significance into words, Lynch understands that it could be a launching pad toward big things.
“It feels good to play your first game on the road and get a victory against a Big Ten team,” he said. “We’re putting the program on the map.”