Northern Illinois wrapped up a MAC Western Division title and kept its perfect season alive with a 35-17 win over Toledo Wednesday night. The No. 16 Huskies (11-0, 6-0 MAC) are left with lowly Western Michigan standing in the way of a perfect regular season. Toledo (7-4, 5-2 MAC) remains third in the MAC West standings.
A George Rainey sack forced Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens to fumble on the game's first play, giving Northern Illinois a short field. It took the Huskies just three plays to cash in, with James Spencer running 19 yards for a touchdown to give NIU the early lead. But the Huskies were unable to take advantage of an Owens interception ten minutes later, and a Toledo field goal cut the lead to 7-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Toledo drove deep into Northern Illinois territory early in the second quarter, but a halfback pass attempt from the NIU two yard line was intercepted. Again, NIU was unable to turn the turnover into points, and a missed field goal gave Toledo the ball at its own 23. The Rockets needed six plays to score, with Owens throwing a 45-yard touchdown pass to Alonzo Russell to give Toledo a 10-7 halftime lead.
Northern Illinois opened the third quarter with an 85-yard scoring drive, with Jordan Lynch running for his first touchdown of the game. Toledo responded with a touchdown of its own, as Owens connected with Bernard Reedy from 36 yards out. Lynch was far from done, though: An out-of-bounds kickoff gave NIU the ball at its own 35. Lynch completed a 15-yard pass and ran three times in a six-play touchdown drive, capping it with a 31-yard touchdown scamper.
Lynch's third act was the most impressive. A long Toledo drive stalled at the Huskies 35, and the Rockets pinned Northern Illinois at its own one yard line with a punt. The Huskies needed 15 plays to cover the 99 yards, with Lynch running for 62 yards on seven carries, completing three passes and diving in for the touchdown. The Huskies held a 28-17 lead, and the Glass Bowl crowd had been taken out of the equation. The Huskies forced a three-and-out from the Toledo offense, Spencer ran in a touchdown after yet another long Northern Illinois drive to extend the lead to 18 points, and the game was effectively over.
Box Score Hero: Cameron Stingily ran for 152 yards on just 17 carries, but the Player of the Game has to be Lynch. The dark horse Heisman Trophy contender ran 28 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns. He also completed 17 of 22 pass attempts for 202 yards. And he did it all despite having two starting receivers out of the game.
Rankings Ramifications: Northern Illinois entered Wednesday's game ranked No. 16 in the BCS standings, but significantly behind No. 15 Fresno State. The Huskies likely need a loss by Fresno if they are to crash the BCS for a second consecutive season, though both teams hold a comfortable lead over AAC leader Central Florida.
But Did They Cover? Yes. Northern Illinois was a 1.5-point favorite Wednesday night.
Next Week's Schedule: Northern Illinois hosts Western Michigan in its regular season finale, and Toledo travels to Akron.