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Northern Illinois beats Ball State, keeps comeback touch

The SportsXchange

MUNCIE, Ind. -- Northern Illinois is making a habit of big second-half comebacks this year.

And the Huskies added to their string of beating Mid-American Conference teams over the last three years.

The Huskies won their fifth straight game by reeling off 21 straight second-half points for a 35-23 victory over the Ball State Cardinals at Scheumann Stadium.

The Huskies (5-1, 2-0 MAC West) added to their season-long trend of coming back in the second half to erase a 23-14 third-quarter deficit. Northern Illinois defeated Army and Kansas this year despite trailing in the fourth quarter, and posted a 31-point win over Central Michigan last week after falling behind in the third quarter.

"We played well again in the second half," said Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren. "This team has showed a lot of heart and character and refuses to give up."

The Huskies remained atop the MAC West Division standings by notching their 17th conference victory in their last 18 games

Northern Illinois junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, the top rushing quarterback in the country, ran for a game-high 207 yards on 29 carries and scored three touchdowns. Lynch completed 16 of 23 passes for 195 yards and one touchdown.

"He (Lynch) is playing really well this season," Doeren said. "The team really believes in him, and that showed today. We fought back and won another one."

Lynch raised his season totals to 789 yards rushing and 1,255 yards passing and notched his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season.

"We knew that we just had to be tough (mentally) and that we would score more points," Lynch said. "We were moving the ball, but just not converting on third downs."

The Cardinals (3-3, 1-2) lost to the Huskies for the fourth straight time despite tallying 563 yards of total offense on an eye-popping 100 plays. Ball State sophomore wide receiver Jamill Smith had 14 receptions for 146 yards.

The Huskies led 14-3 when Lynch scored on a 29-yard run and Leighton Settle added a one-yard touchdown run.

Ball State scored 20 unanswered points to seize a 23-14 lead after quarterback Keith Wenning's one-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.

"We had a nice comeback, but we couldn't close out the victory," said Ball State coach Pete Lembo. "They can score points in a hurry. Their quarterback (Lynch) is a special player. He's a tough player. You have to give credit to Northern Illinois."

Ball State kicker Steven Schott sparked the comeback by making three first-half field goals and Wenning added a 12-yard scoring toss to Willie Snead late in the second quarter to help the Cardinals score 13 second-quarter points.

"We played well (offensively) but couldn't stop them," Wenning said. "They have a really good offense and we made some mistakes that hurt us. I thought we did some good things on offense."

One week after scoring 55 points and amassing 622 total yards, the Huskies managed just 14 points in the first half and failed to convert their first 10 third-down attempts before starting their comeback midway through the third quarter. The Huskies entered the contest leading the conference in third-down conversions.

Lynch scored on a 12-yard run to cut the deficit to 23-21. Lynch tossed a 54-yard touchdown pass to Akeem Daniels to give the Huskies a 28-23 lead with 4:58 left in the fourth. Less than two minutes later, Lynch busted loose for a 71-yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach. The Huskies scored touchdowns on three second-half drives in 13 plays to win for the sixth time in their last seven meetings at Ball State and retain possession of the Bronze Stalk trophy for the fourth straight year.

"We wanted to keep the trophy and bring it on the bus," Doeren said. "It was a great comeback win. It will be a long ride home, but we're happy to be undefeated in the conference heading into next week's game against Buffalo."

NOTES: Northern Illinois junior quarterback Jordan Lynch, who ranks 12th nationally in rushing at 116.4 yards per game and is tops among all quarterbacks, rushed for 100-plus yards for the fifth time this season ... NIU middle linebacker Victor Jacques played in his first game since injuring his knee in the season opener against Iowa. Jacques forced a fumble in the first quarter ... NIU wide receiver Perez Ashford, who ranks second on the team in receptions and receiving yards, did not play due to a sprained ankle ... Ball State wide receiver Willie Snead, who had 25 receptions in his last two games, had a 67-yard touchdown catch called back due to a penalty in the first half. But Sneed's 12-yard second-quarter touchdown marked his fourth straight game with a scoring reception from quarterback Keith Wenning ... The Huskies entered Saturday's contest with 16 wins in their last 17 conference games.
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