Fresh off their second win of the season against a Big Ten team and a completed, undefeated non-conference portion of the schedule, the Huskies of Northern Illinois start conference play in 2013 the same way they ended it in 2012: against Kent State.
The Huskies and Golden Flashes played an epic game for the ages in last season's MAC Championship Game, so what better way to kick off conference play than with a rematch?
"There were so many ups and downs in that game," NIU coach Rod Carey said during Tuesday's press conference. "They came out and started out really fast. We responded and really kind of took control of the game. Then they took the momentum from us. I think we had and they took it from us. We had to come back and tie it up. We go into overtime and they get the ball. We hold them to a field goal. We had to make a long field goal. People don't remember that kick. That was a big-time kick by (Mathew) Sims. That's what I remember, the roller coaster of emotions. I was so tired after that game. It was unbelievable."
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Carey did a pretty good job with the play-by-play, but to sum up, Northern had a 27-13 lead after three quarters before Kent State scored three touchdowns in the fourth and the game headed to overtime. The teams traded field goals in the first OT before quarterback Jordan Lynch rushed in for a touchdown, the only score of double overtime, securing the MAC championship.
"I remember not being able to put them away in the fourth quarter," linebacker Michael Santacaterina said Tuesday. "They kept fighting the whole game. Then we went into overtime, and they were tough. Sims had that big field goal at the end to bring it to another overtime."
Clearly that game is still fresh in the minds of the Huskies. Wouldn't it be great for this next meeting to go just a bit easier?
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It will if Northern keeps doing what they've been doing, which is offensively dominating opponents. The Huskies are averaging 43.25 points per game, which includes their most recent and most impressive performance of the season, a 55-24 thumping of Purdue.
"We knew going into the game we were going to pass a lot, but it was just nice to see we made plays with the passes that we got, and it just showed another threat and another element that we can add to our game against other teams and just another element that they have to worry about," wide receiver Juwan Brescacin said. "Going up against a Big Ten team like Purdue, and completing all those passes added confidence to the wide receiver group and to the offense.
"I'd say that's pretty impressive. It just shows the offense is getting better, people are getting more comfortable with each other, and it's a lot of credit to Jordan too with the reads that he's making. We're just going out and having fun completing passes."
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Through four games, Lynch is showing why he deserves the Heisman campaign NIU is staging for him. The quarterback has thrown for 869 yards and 10 touchdowns and added 439 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.
But, while everyone else wants to talk about an impressive non-conference schedule and Northern becoming the first MAC team to beat two Big Ten opponents in the same season, like his coach and the rest of his team all Lynch wants to focus on is Kent State and the MAC schedule.
"Obviously we started out 4-0 and that's good, but none of those games really matter now," Lynch said. "It's all about going for that MAC championship now, and we're 0-0. That's how we're approaching this week and how we're going to start approaching the season."