Created: Monday, September 2, 2013 8:50 a.m. CDT
Updated: Monday, September 2, 2013 10:38 p.m. CDT

Seniors came up big in NIU win over Hawkeyes

Jimmie Ward (15) celebrates his fourth-quarter interception against Iowa on Saturday. The Huskies won, 30-27. (Monica Maschak –

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Whenever Northern Illinois made a big play Saturday against Iowa, it seemed like it was always a familiar face who made it.

And there were a lot of big plays.

From kicker Mathew Sims blasting a 47-yard field goal to open the scoring to Sims hitting another one with four seconds left to close it, he and his fellow seniors came up big at all the crucial times, showing that they’ve learned what it takes to win on a big stage.

“I think we stayed cool, calm and collected,” said quarterback Jordan Lynch of the seniors. “[We] never panic.”

The comfort level of the veterans was the key to pulling out the 30-27 win, and it started with Lynch. When he made his first career start in the 2012 season opener against the Hawkeyes, he struggled throwing the ball and ended up with just 54 yards. This year was an entirely different story. With experience under his belt, Lynch had a newfound confidence.

“I feel like I’m a whole new different player,” he said. “I feel calm out there.”

The rest of the seniors displayed this quiet assuredness as well.

When Iowa went up 27-20 with under seven minutes remaining, instead of losing their composure, they stepped up. Lynch went 5-for-5 passing the next drive, culminating in a 33-yard strike to Da’Ron Brown for the tying touchdown.

When Iowa got the ball back with 1:24 remaining and a chance to win the game, safety Jimmie Ward showcased his veteran savvy in anticipating a throw toward the sideline from quarterback Jake Rudock, stepping in front, and snagging the interception.

And when NIU ran the clock down and gave Sims a chance to ice the game with the home crowd roaring and Kinnick Stadium rocking, he calmly knocked it through the uprights from 36 yards out.

But after all these players have been through during their long Huskie careers, they don’t seem to see it like we do on the outside.

“Just another kick,” Sims said after giving NIU its first road victory over a BCS team in nearly three years. “Just another win for our team.”

Maybe the seniors just downplay their accomplishments because they’ve already achieved great things in the past. They’ve been a part of two MAC championships, two bowl wins, and a BCS bowl appearance in the past three years.

But maybe they don’t see the significance because they expect much greater things than a road win over a Big Ten team. They want to build a legacy even greater than the ones they’ve built already.

These Huskie seniors see the opportunities presented to them, and they seize them.

“Some big plays were out there for us today,” head coach Rod Carey said. “That’s what they were giving us, so that’s what we took.”

Will NIU football win the MAC this season?